Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE, Fla. (CBSMiami.com) – Lost amid the speculation surrounding the Miami Dolphins is the fact that on Saturday, the new look Florida Panthers will drop the puck on the 2011-2012 season.
The Panthers will look little like the team that last played in the Bank Atlantic Center. The team invested a lot of money to get to the salary floor of the NHL this season.
The only question is was that money well spent and translate to victories; or was it simply paying any player with a pulse to play for the team to meet the salary floor guidelines.
One player who dazzled in training camp for the Panthers is rookie first-round draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau. He was the team’s leading scorer in the preseason, but he will not be on the Panthers roster this season.
Huberdeau’s size, roughly 180 pounds, was one of the leading factors to him not making the team just yet. But, Huberdeau proved that the Panthers picked the right player when they selected him third overall in the 2011 NHL Draft.
“He made that an extremely tough decision for us, given his maturity as a person and his play,” head coach Kevin Dineen said of Huberdeau, before adding, “at this time, he still has some physical maturing to do and that is better suited at the junior level.”
Huberdeau didn’t disagree with the Panthers’ move.
“It’s just precaution; I’m not that big and I don’t want to get hurt this year,” Huberdeau said.
Another young Panthers player will be on the roster opening night. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was the number three overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, made the team after spending a year in the junior leagues.
Gudbranson will receive essentially a nine-game tryout with the team. If he performs well, he’ll stay with the Panthers through the rest of the season. If the Panthers still aren’t sold on him after the three games, he will be returned to his junior league after the nine games.
“He’s ready to contribute to our lineup,” Dineen said. “I’m excited about him and excited to get him in his first NHL game.”
The Panthers first game of the 2011 season will be on Saturday at the New York Islanders at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Florida.
The Panthers first home game is set for the Saturday after that, October 15, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.