Jonathan Huberdeau making it a tough decision for management in Florida

Jonathan Huberdeau isn’t making life easy for management in Florida these days. You’d think the team would be ecstatic about their third overall pick’s performance in his first NHL training camp. After all, everyone wants their players succeed at the highest level, right? But Huberdeau has been exceeding just about all expectations—and now the organization is faced with the real decision of putting the 18-year-old on the opening night roster.

How’d this happen? Wasn’t Huberdeau the kid who was supposed to be good in a couple of years after he put on some much needed weight?

There’s no simple reason the Quebec native is still in the mix as the Panthers whittle their roster down to 23 players. For one, he’s been a beast in his first two NHL preseason games with the Panthers. Not only is he showing that he can hang with others trying to make the NHL, he’s showing that he’s one of the best players on the ice. He’s scored a pair of goals in his two preseason games and has earned “star of the night” honors in each contest.

Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen isn’t closing the door on Huberdeau making the team:

“The opportunity is out there. Jonathan’s done a very good job of showing everything he can at camp to make a statement for his case. He’s shown his skill set, his work ethic; he’s very respectful. He’s shown a quiet confidence. We think the world of him as a player, as well as a person.

“He’s doing his part.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just stellar play from the #3 pick. Mike Santorelli injured his shoulder and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. The Panthers have publically said that they expect him to be back sometime between opening night and Halloween. If he were to miss most of October, it would open up a spot for one of the fringe forwards looking to make the big club. Surprisingly, Huberdeau’s part of that group.

It might be the best of both worlds for Huberdeau that he’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do in the first nine games of the season. Performing well against good AHL players in the preseason is much different that thriving against NHLers in the regular season. Let’s face it: not all the players he’s faced in the preseason are going to be on opening night rosters.

A nine-game audition while Santorelli recovers would be the perfect opportunity for Huberdeau to get a taste of the size and speed of NHL players, as well as getting a taste of the expectations of being a professional athlete. There’s no substitute for a young player to see what professionals go through on a daily basis—from eating and health habits to on-ice preparation.

If he struggles on the ice or the Panthers decide there is no good role to make the most of his talents, they can easily send him down to St. John to continue to work on his overall game. The Panthers would also save a year on his entry-level contract as they face a potentially rough season in the standings. Then again, if he’s unquestionably ready for the show, they may want him to do his learning at the NHL level without the pressure of team expectations.

Regardless, watching the Panthers handle the Huberdeau situation should be one of the more interesting storylines as teams finalize their NHL rosters.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eihel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least development into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.