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.

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.