Jonathan Huberdeau: Poised on the Brink

After playing three full seasons in the NHL, Jonathan Huberdeau seems to have reached the point in his career where he might just be hitting his stride. A first round third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he ended his first season with 31 points in 48 games, walking away with the Calder Trophy and the privilege of being named the NHL’s best rookie. However, his second season was lacking in almost every department; he totaled a meager 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists) in 69 games. Plagued by injuries and illness, he missed 13 games and his numbers reflected a lack of progress. He wasn’t becoming the player people were expecting him to be, and the beginning of his third season seemed to be bringing much of the same.

New Line; New Beginning

In his first 58 games of the 2014-15 season, Huberdeau had just 9 goals and 24 assists; better than the previous year but still not the kind of numbers he was capable of. However, on March 1, 2015 something interesting happened: the arrival of league veteran Jaromir Jagr. Put on a line with Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, this group managed to put up numbers every time they were on the ice together. In fact, Huberdeau racked up an impressive 6 goals and 15 assists in just 21 games–essentially averaging a point a game. Had Jagr arrived earlier, the possibilities are more than a little bit exciting.

The chemistry in this line was almost tangible, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that veteran Jagr found a way to bring out the best in 21-year-old Huberdeau. More than twice his linemate’s age at 43, Jagr scored his 1800th point on the assist to a beautiful goal by Huberdeau against Boston on April 9, 2015.

Looking Ahead

Breaking down the numbers, and assuming Huberdeau and Jagr remain healthy, number 11 could be on track for more than 80 points next season. Playing just over a quarter of the season with his new line mates, and the departure of the team’s leading scorer Nick Bjugstad, Huberdeau ended the season with the most points on the team: 54. Add to this the fact that the Panthers were still fighting for a playoff spot almost until the end of the season, it’s not hard to imagine what a full season of this kind of play could bring to the table.

Not only does this bode well for Huberdeau, it looks good for the Panthers as a whole. A healthy line-up that includes Huberdeau, Jagr, Bjugstad, Aaron Ekblad and goalie Roberto Luongo, as well as perhaps a few interesting unrestricted free agents over the summer, could mean a stellar season in 2016.