SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers will lift a division championship banner to the rafters soon, but if they are to hang another one and make it deeper into the playoffs it all may rest on the shoulders of a former top draft pick.
The Panthers selected forward Jonathan Huberdeau third overall in the 2011 National Hockey League draft. He almost made the roster last season, but was instead sent back to junior hockey for another season. Since then, he’s torn through the junior levels and is poised to make his NHL regular season debut this year.
“I think he’s a really good player, a guy who is going to be a star in this league,” teammate Tomas Kopecky told CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald. “He has all the skills. He is very skilled, very fast. The first couple of games may take some adjustment around the corners. But he’s a very smart hockey player. He’ll figure it out.”
So how good is the 19-year-old phenom?
In his final two seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Huberdeau played in 114 games and scored 73 goals and 104 assists. In the playoffs, Huberdeau was even better last season scoring 10 goals in 15 games played, according to the Florida Panthers web site.
In the most recent World Junior Championship, Huberdeau finished in the Top 10 in scoring with nine points in six games for the Canadian team.
The Panthers will need all the help they can get in the coming weeks due to the compressed NHL schedule. The team plays eight games in the first two weeks starting Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
That could set the stage for the younger players to step forward to give veterans more of a break.
“Hopefully, I have more energy,” Huberdeau told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t want to go back to juniors, that’s for sure. There’s going to be a lot of hockey, but I’m ready for it.”