Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – When Alex Kovalev made his NHL debut, his current team, the Florida Panthers, and star rookie Jonathan Huberdeau didn’t even exist. But at 39, Kovalev is helping to bridge the gap from the veterans to Huberdeau, 19.
Huberdeau came out swinging in his NHL debut on Saturday scoring an early game and finishing the night with three points. His effort was matched by the veteran Kovalev, who also had three points in the Panthers’ 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Panthers chose to not only sign Kovalev after most other teams had given up on him, but also to put him on the same line with Huberdeau. After one game, the move yielded some great results.
“You can tell he’s a talented kid,” Kovalev said.”He’s really patient with the puck. He can hold on to it. Pretty strong on his feet and it’s really fun to play with a player of that type. You know if you give it to him, you’ll get the puck back.”
Neither player was in the NHL last year. Kovalev was coming back from an injury and was playing in Russia while Huberdeau was playing junior hockey in Canada. But Huberdeau has been seen as the future of the Panthers since he was selected third overall in the 2011 NHL Draft.
“For sure, it’s crazy,” Huberdeau said. “Having the chance to be on the same line, he’s a great player, Mueller’s a great player too, and it’s crazy to be on the line with them.”
Kovalev pulled Huberdeau aside before Saturday night’s opener for a quick pep talk, someone with about 20 more years and 1,300 more games of experience deciding to offer a bit of wisdom about how to truly make the jump from juniors to the NHL.
“I said to him, the game is the same,” Kovalev said. “Maybe just a faster pace, maybe bigger guys, but the game is still the same.”
Huberdeau’s first shot after that chat? His first NHL goal, a play set up in large part by Kovalev. The Panthers kept rolling from there, winning their opener 5-1.
The Panthers are only one game into their 48-game sprint to the NHL Playoffs, but after that first game; the Cats look like they could be a force to be reckoned with once again this season.
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