Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at the BB&T Center on January 19, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Panthers will rely ‘heavily’ on Huberdeau in sophomore season

Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau wasn’t a complete unknown going into the 2013 campaign, but it was also fair to say that it was hard to put high expectations on him as a rookie.

After recording 31 points in the shortened season en route to winning the Calder Trophy, things will be different in 2013-14.

“We’re going to rely on him heavily,” Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell told the Sun Sentinel. “Instead of last year coming in and not knowing what to expect. We truly need him to be a force for our team.”

That might seem unfair, but the Panthers are a young team that’s tired of losing. Making the playoffs will be an uphill battle for them and their odds will be far worse if Huberdeau deals with a sophomore slump.

Avoiding that regression will be easier said than done. The last four Calder Trophy winners, from Steve Mason to Gabriel Landeskog, have regressed in their second season, albeit sometimes due to injury. Of course, just because that’s been the trend doesn’t mean that Huberdeau is any more or less likely to struggle in 2013-14, but it does highlight that one good season doesn’t make Huberdeau a safe bet going forward.

The 20-year-old’s position is particularly unique because he still needs to prove that he can withstand the rigors of an 82-game NHL campaign. At the same time, there are reasons to believe in Huberdeau, especially when you consider that he entered the shortened season with a hip injury sustained during the World Junior Championships and proceeded to play through it.

“He’ll be stronger, fitter and pain-free,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. “I expect bigger and better from him. He’ll have some hiccups as well over 82 games. Even veteran players have hiccups, ups and downs in an 82-game season.”

For his part Huberdeau wants to improve “in every way” and after months of getting ready to do just that, the Panthers’ campaign will start next week.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins
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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance

Jackets not expected to sign Quebec league prospect Pelletier

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Julien Pelletier meets his team after being drafted #107 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Julien Pelletier, the QMJHL Sherbrooke forward taken in the fourth round of the ’14 draft, is unlikely to receive an entry-level contract from the Blue Jackets, per the Columbus Dispatch.

The move would mean Pelletier could re-enter this year’s draft. The Blue Jackets have until Wednesday to decide if they want to sign him, or trade his rights to another team.

Taken five spots ahead of Viktor Arvidsson — who’s become a nice young player for Nashville — Pelletier had a solid season in Sherbrooke, finishing second on the team in goals (with 27).

This year, he was in training camp with the Jackets but sent home early.

Per the Dispatch, the Jackets are also unlikely to sign another ’14 draftee — Olivier Leblanc, who was taken in the seventh round.

‘Invigorated’ Hitch signs for one final year in St. Louis

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Ken Hitchcock is taking one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.

The club announced today a one-year contract extension for the 64-year-old head coach. Hitchcock then confirmed during a press conference that 2016-17 will be his final year. He plans to retire from coaching once it’s over.

“I just feel like I’ve got this really good year in me,” Hitchcock said. “This season has invigorated me like no season before.”

The Blues, of course, made it all the way to the Western Conference Final this year. The previous four postseasons under Hitchcock, they made it to the second round once, then lost three straight times in the first round.

“This group of players, their dynamic has changed, and it’s really exciting right now,” he said.

There will be at least one change to the coaching staff. GM Doug Armstrong said today that associate coach Brad Shaw will not be back. The rest of the staff has been offered one-year extensions to match Hitchcock’s.

Now that the decision has been made on the head coach, Armstrong can turn his full attention to the roster. Getting Jaden Schwartz, a pending restricted free agent, signed to a long-term deal will be his initial focus.

As for the captain, pending unrestricted free agent David Backes, there’s interest in bringing him back, but the numbers have to make sense. Forwards Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall are also UFAs.

On the back end, Kevin Shattenkirk is probably the biggest wild card. He can become unrestricted next summer, and there has been speculation he could be traded this summer. But as of right now, Armstrong expects him to be back.

Armstrong also said there’s a chance Vladimir Sobotka could return to the Blues next season. Sobotka has spent the last two years in the KHL.

However the roster looks next season, it will be interesting to see what Hitchcock can get out of it. The Blues got over a big hump in 2016, but they only got halfway to winning it all.

One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s this:

Related: Parayko’s ‘memorable’ season has extended into the playoffs

NHL explains no suspension for Marleau, says he didn’t ‘pick’ Rust’s head

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PITTSBURGH — Shortly after reports surfaced that San Jose’s Patrick Marleau wouldn’t face supplemental discipline for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a series of tweets explaining their decision.

Following last night’s game, Marleau said he didn’t think he’d be suspended for the hit, explaining that he “kind of let [Rust] skate into me.”

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

Marleau’s assessment was in direct contrast with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

As for Rust, Sullivan listed him as day-to-day with an upper-body injury following the contest. The hit knocked Rust out of last night’s game, and the Penguins haven’t began their off-day practice yet.

More to follow…