Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau is Destined for Another Breakout Season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the visiting Florida Panthers on December 14, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the visiting Florida Panthers on December 14, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Jonathan Huberdeau has consistently been a threat for the Florida Panthers since his debut in 2011, tallying 267 points across 385 games.

Huberdeau’s hands turn him into a star winger that any team would take, but it’s still another very under-looked Panthers player that can be writing headlines this season.

For a third overall pick, it’s hard to say whether Huberdeau has lived up to the hype. Huberdeau has consistently been a playmaker for the Panthers, leading the team’s wingers in assists during the 2014-15 season as well as the 2017-18 campaign.

At the same time, other players who’ve been taken at three, like Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Ottawa’s Matt Duchene, have arguably had better careers than Huberdeau so far.

It’s after two mediocre first line seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16 that Huberdeau has really evolved his game into a legitimate game changer. During the 2016-17 preseason, Huberdeau went down injured with a lower leg injury against the New Jersey Devils and left the ice limping with his arms across two trainers’ shoulders.

Jonny would go on to miss four months, and would only play 31 games that season. This detail seems like something that would hinder Huberdeau’s game, see a drop-off in his production, and ultimately face a declining Huberdeau for the next couple of months of play. What Florida saw was completely opposite of that.

Huberdeau came back on February 3rd, 2017, with little expectations, as the Cats had immensely struggled to not only win but to replace his production on the first line. The season before, the line of Huby, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr terrorized the league. Now there is no such line.

Gerard Gallant and Tom Rowe tried a mixture of players to fill the void Huberdeau left: Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, and Seth Griffith to name a few. In a sign of things to come, Huberdeau returned to the ice with a goal against the Anaheim Ducks.

Jonny arguably played his best hockey in his return game, potting 26 points in 31 games, which was his best points per game ratio of his career by far. Whatever Huberdeau did over his recovery seriously improved his game, because he came back this season with a statement.

Jonathan Huberdeau’s connection with Barkov has improved to one of the best connections in hockey, with the two going together like peanut butter and jelly. Huberdeau’s goal portrayed above against the Dallas Stars is a perfect link-up with Barkov, as the two knew exactly where each other would be.

The two swap positions, with Barkov sliding off to the left, receiving a pinpoint pass from Vincent Trocheck. Barkov instantly slots it to Huberdeau, who buries the opportunity to give Florida the lead. Jonny is consistently moving around the offensive zone and creates many opportunities just based off movement.

Huberdeau’s definitely known for his playmaking skills, notably shown with his assist tally being greater than his goals column. It’s clear that he didn’t lose any talent off his leg injury and that he’s recovered better than ever.

Another goal that was the Huberdeau-Barkov connection was this dagger in November against the Buffalo Sabres:

Huberdeau has to adjust his body to be able to thread a pass to Barkov, who is skating ahead of the pack. With a fantastic backhander, Huberdeau plays the pass through Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan Beaulieu to Sasha, who played the puck in with the goal at his mercy to kill the Sabres’ comeback hopes off.

At the All-Star Break, Huberdeau had 48 points playing alongside Barkov and Evgeni Dadonov, already on pace to beat his record for points in a season. Something still wasn’t right though, and head coach Bob Boughner decided to move Huberdeau to the second line alongside Vincent Trocheck and Denis Malgin.

This was the first time since his third season that Jonny and Sasha would both remain healthy, yet not feature on a line together.

The line struggled to really

come together, as Malgin and Huberdeau were both attempting to sling passes to Trocheck. Once

Frank Vatrano

came into the lineup after his acquisition, Huberdeau’s production yet again boomed.

With two shoot-first players on his line, Jonny becomes the playmaker for plays like these. He’s able to ghost into position while the opposition’s focus lies on players like Trocheck and Vatrano. The New York Rangers‘ defense is so spread out that Huberdeau finds himself with time and space to decide whether to pass or shoot.

In this situation, he finds it difficult to do either, and winds up slotting it through Henrik Lundqvist’s five-hole, but can’t find the opposite corner. Trocheck is able to dig the puck out to find Vatrano for the goal to make up for the missed pass.

Huberdeau’s season ended a little colder than it began, finishing the final month of the year with just 10 points, but it would be wrong not to point out the improvements that Vincent Trocheck made to his game.

The Pittsburgh-born center ramped his production level in March and April, and despite Huberdeau not being able to assist on a lot of Vinny’s goals at the end, Huberdeau learned to play a little more off the puck.

Next season, Huberdeau may start on the second line yet again, but this time with a player who holds a cannon of a wrist shot, former Ottawa Senators winger Mike Hoffman. Hoffman has scored 20 goals for four consecutive seasons, and it’s not hard to see why with shots like this:

An absolute bullet past Philipp Grubauer left the German goaltender glued to his spot, an unstoppable shot on the power play. He looks to ramp up his production alongside Huberdeau and Trocheck instead of with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ryan Dzingel, a clear upgrade for a sniper like Hoffman.

Moving Jonathan Huberdeau to the First Line Would be Advised. dark. Next

After learning to play without the puck, and playing on arguably one of the best lines in his career next season, it’s not hard to see how Jonathan Huberdeau can emerge into the NHL’s spotlight.