After missing a huge chunk of the 2016-17 year due to injury, Jonathan Huberdeau was expected to lead the youthful Florida Panthers for the following season.
His 2016-17 year came crashing down before the season even began, when a freak accident occurred against the New Jersey Devils in a preseason game. Huberdeau’s Achille tendon was sliced open behind the net, causing him to miss 52 regular season games that year. Lots transpired that season between the canning of Gallant, long-term injuries to core players, as well as missing out on the postseason.
But apart from the Panthers’ failures that year, a new team was assembled that offseason. Gone were the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault to list a few. Dale Tallon called upon his younger players (like Huberdeau) to take the lead, and taking the lead is what they did throughout the 2017-18 season.
With no Jagr on the first line, both Huberdeau and Barkov were introduced to a new linemate: Evgeni Dadonov. The three would make up the first line with Huberdeau on the left, Barkov down the middle, and Dadonov on the right side. Needless to say, the three tore it up immediately, producing the majority of the Panthers’ points.
Jonathan Huberdeau began his bounce-back year on the right foot, potting 21 points (7G,14A) in his first 20 games of the new season. His chemistry with Barkov and Dadonov was growing exponentially after every game, and in result, the 24-year-old, Quebec native was producing at a point-per-game rate through the first half of the year.
Although, as soon as teams started to catch on to the Panthers’ lack of depth, Bob Boughner was forced to make a decision that would change the team’s playoff chances.
His immediate change up front was to move Huberdeau down to the second line, giving Vincent Trocheck more talent to play with. With the Panthers struggling to get other lines (apart from the first) going, Boughner’s idea was to balance out a top 6 that would at least roll out two good scoring lines. The plan worked, as the Panthers started to win more games consecutively, climbing the standings as time went on. But one side effect that came along with the plan was the drop in Huberdeau’s production.
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Playing alongside a shoot-first center in Trocheck was a little new for Huby himself. Throughout the majority of his career, Huberdeau’s always been paired with Barkov: a pass-first, playmaker, who can set up just about anyone in any situation. The idea of Huberdeau playing with a shoot-first center was a little different, and took some time to getting use to.
While Huberdeau’s production dropped a little after moving down to the 2nd line, he certainly played a significant role in balancing out the top 6. His ability to set up Vinnie Trocheck from the wing was incredible in certain moments, as well as his vision to creating additional scoring opportunities for other right-wingers he played alongside like Jamie McGinn, Frank Vatrano, and even Denis Malgin in parts.
His willingness to sacrifice his production for the betterment of the team shouldn’t go unnoticed either. A true leader will step up and play in whatever unorthodox role he’s called upon to play in (for the better of the team) which Jonathan Huberdeau did.
Him stepping down and playing with Trocheck on the 2nd line allowed Florida to role out two scoring lines, which almost propelled them into the playoffs. Besides, at the end of his first-full 82 game season in his NHL career, Jonathan Huberdeau recorded career-high’s in goals (27), assists (42), and points (69), which was just one point shy of cracking the 70-point mark. Considering the line shuffling that was going on throughout the entire year, those numbers aren’t bad by any stretch, and likely would’ve been higher if left on the top line with Barkov and Dadonov.
In closing, while Huberdeau didn’t close out the season the way he would’ve liked to on an individual level, we all know what he’s capable of when put beside Barkov. A little drop in production shouldn’t freak fans out, and with more forward depth arriving this summer (*fingers crossed*), Bob Boughner will likely reunite the top line back together. Nonetheless, a solid year from Huberdeau himself.