The Florida Panthers are still searching for the face of their franchise and it seems Jonathan Huberdeau is first in the running. In terms of skill and potential, Huberdeau has proven to be one of the elite. In his rookie season, Huberdeau did not disappoint, scoring 14 goals and 17 assists while playing in all 48 games. His efforts won him the Calder Trophy, but as past recipients Steve Mason and Tyler Myers have experienced, it does not guarantee future success. So, will Huberdeau continue down the path to stardom, or will he suffer a sophomore slump?
We’ve seen it before, outstanding players with boatloads of potential letting their careers slip away. Mason was given every opportunity to shine with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but saw his job quickly snatched away by the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Some may argue he got cold with no competition behind him, others say his rookie season was nothing but a fluke. In any case, Mason is now at a juncture where he must perform, or see his credibility as an NHL goaltender slowly disappear. In another example, Myers showed tremendous skill in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres. Since then, Myers has seen his offensive production decline significantly, but more importantly, his average ice time per season has decreased consistently as well. With Myers now in his fifth season, these are huge red flags. However, with Mason 25 years old and Myers 23, it is hard to completely write them off, but as past Calder Trophy winners, there is much work to be done.
Huberdeau, during the 48-game season, displayed immense ability and poise for a rookie. Judging by his 14 goals last year, to say Huberdeau looked out of place would be a blatant lie. At just over six feet and 170 pounds, Huberdeau displayed a strong presence in front of the net and owns a very high hockey IQ for his age. He is a strong skater and can both shoot and pass the puck. In reality, he has the potential to be a future superstar, but a lot of work comes with staying consistent at this level of hockey.
Is Huberdeau a candidate to slip up in his second year? Doubtful. Over the summer, Huberdeau has not only recovered from hip surgery but, according to a tweet by Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports, has also gained 10 pounds in muscle. He has claimed to be healthy and is looking forward to the season. Interestingly, the most recent news out of the Panthers’ camp is Huberdeau is suffering from a hip injury and is not participating in the preseason. However, this is supposedly nothing serious, and should not prevent him from making the opening night roster.
Jonathan Huberdeau has recovered from hip surgery and put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) September 5, 2013
One of the more interesting stories brewing in the Florida camp is the growing relationship between Huberdeau recent first round pick Aleksander Barkov. According to the Miami Herald, the two are penciled in as roommates for road trips, and have been talking quite a bit during since his arrival. Furthermore, Huberdeau has praised the younger Barkov for his skills and attitude once arriving in North America:
“I think he is more ready to play in the NHL although it will be a different style than he’s used to, I don’t think people had a lot of expectations on me last year. I think the best thing he can do is not put too much pressure on himself. He’s a good guy and I’m going to help him as much as I can. But I think he’s fine. I’ve seen him at practice. He has a lot of skill.”
If Huberdeau and Barkov can find their stride, especially so early in their careers, the Florida Panthers and their fans will be excited for years to come. However, as many European players have realized, getting used to the North American style of hockey is quite difficult, and it would not be surprising if Barkov had some trouble as well. It will be up to Huberdeau and the rest of the Panthers to help Barkov find his way sooner rather than later, as the benefits from his production could spring a whole new Panthers team in 2013-14. While it is difficult to gauge their production as of now, Huberdeau and Barkov could prove to be the most exciting part of the Panthers’ training camp as the 2013-14 season approaches.
Another great thing about Huberdeau is he seems to enjoy playing in Florida, something the Panthers desperately need from their star players. Taking Barkov under his wing will help the Panthers solidify a skilled group of young forwards who are willing to play for the team. If the partnership does work out, the Panthers could have the perfect duo to attract talent to the South, similar to their friends in Tampa Bay. For now, it is on Huberdeau’s shoulders to come out swinging and bring Barkov along for the ride. Otherwise, the Panthers will have to count on their veterans to pick up the slack, which will not only make it difficult for the Cats to compete, but for their fans to watch.