Jonathan Huberdeau is yet another one of those young developing players for the Panthers that will either make or break this teams future success. After winning the Calder a couple years ago, and then having a uneven sophomore season, Huberdeau finally started to show his real promise in the later half of 2015.
During most of the 1st half of this season it looked like maybe all Huberdeau would ever be was a less than 20 goal guy who was easily shoved off the puck. There were even trade rumors, albeit mostly fan induced, but nonetheless it was clear that he was not reaching what we all assumed was his potential. Then something happened that I believe was the impetus to his rapidly improving play, and I am not talking about Jagr…
What I think turned Huberdeau’s lights on was the rather nice contract signed by Nick Bjugstad. I noticed the very next game, suddenly Huberdeau was fighting for the puck relentlessly, and no longer was the puck ” rolling off his stick” every time he was pressured. It seemed that he had turned a corner very suddenly and sharply, and I believe that the Bjugstad signing was the impetus. Now I cant say exactly why that would be. Maybe he saw the Panthers we going to try to keep this young team together and he wanted to show he belonged here. Maybe someone inside the organization spoke to him about needing step up like Bjugstad. Who knows. What was obvious was that Huberdeau had become aware that more effort was needed.
When playing with passion, Huberdeau is an amazingly skilled skater & passer. He can easily control the puck with semi-spins and turns , leaving defenders in the dust. He has a strong ability to know where his teammates are on the ice, and most of his passes are razor sharp. He is not afraid to mix it up in the corners either. With his puck handling skills he excels in the area around the net as he can grab the puck in close quarters. As long as he continues to develop the idea that he should shoot more, his continued progress seems a sure bet.
Most of the negatives in his game were cleaned up in the later part of the year. Fighting for the puck, focusing better on controlling the puck once its on his stick, and not getting pushed around. Again when he plays with passion there really aren’t many holes in his game. If you want to get picky you could say he needs to go to the front of the net more. but really , he ended the year at about a 75 point pace, so just keep improving!
Maybe I am wrong but I don’t think he will ever been a 40 goal scorer. He doesn’t have a blazing shot like Pirri and probably lacks the size to really get down and dirty in front of the net consistently night after night. However, if he can get another year with Jagr maybe that changes, and certainly he could be a 50 assist guy annually. Huberdeau has the proper attitude to lead him to continued improvement. Like Barkov, getting Jagr back would help immensely. Look for Huberdeau to have a 70-80 point season next year with 30 goals a real possibility.