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.

Malkin to miss third straight game with lower-body injury

Evgeni Malkin
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Evgeni Malkin‘s “nagging” lower-body injury will keep him out at least one more game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said this morning that the star center will sit out tonight at home against the Ducks. Malkin already missed two contests this weekend in Florida. His status is day-to-day.

The Penguins lost, 6-3, in Tampa on Friday, but rebounded Saturday with a 3-2 OT win over the Panthers.

Pittsburgh’s next game after tonight’s is Wednesday at home versus the Rangers.

McDonagh out with concussion after Saturday’s altercation with Simmonds

Ryan McDonagh
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The New York Rangers will be without Ryan McDonagh tonight at home to New Jersey, the club announcing this morning that the defenseman is out with a concussion.

McDonagh left Saturday’s game in Philadelphia following an altercation with the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds that ended with McDonagh taking a punch to the face from Simmonds.

Simmonds received a match penalty and was thrown out of the game, but did not receive any supplemental discipline.

Given the standings, the Rangers can ill afford to lose McDonagh for long. They play in Pittsburgh Wednesday, followed by three home games against Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

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Lucic’s plan is to ‘remain a King’ for remainder of career

Milan Lucic, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis
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Tuesday night, Milan Lucic will play his first game in Boston as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

It should be an emotional return for the big 27-year-old winger. In an interview with the L.A. Times, he recalled his time with his former club fondly, saying how great it was to be a “part of one of the best-ever eras to be a Bruin.”

A pending unrestricted free agent, Lucic also commented on his contract negotiations with the Kings.

“Nothing to get excited about,” he said. “There’s been two or three little talks here and there. My plan is to remain a King and hopefully finish off my career here. Like I said, I go day by day and you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Lucic has 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games this season. Though the Kings reportedly want to keep him, the question is whether they can find the cap space to make it happen.

Los Angeles already has Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Quick locked up long term. Plus, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson will require new deals after next season.

Related: Why Lucic is an interesting pending UFA

Despres, Perron return to Pittsburgh for the first time since being traded to Anaheim

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres and David Perron will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since they were shipped to Anaheim via trade.

Monday’s tilt at the Consol Engery Center will be special for both individuals.

Despres was traded to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy last March, while Perron was sent to the Ducks earlier this season.

Both players may have had some good times in Pittsburgh, but in both instances, things didn’t end up the way they had envisioned.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Perron said of things not working out in Pittsburgh, per the Post-Gazette. “I made some great relationships. Some really good friends.

“The only thing, it didn’t work. That’s what what [general manager] Jim Rutherford and I and [head coach] Mike Sullivan talked when the trade happened. I wish it would have been different but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It didn’t click as good as you wanted it to be. I’m happy I got a new start and it’s going well.”

The 27-year-old played 86 games over two seasons with the Penguins, and he managed to score just 16 goals and 38 points during that span.

Things have been a lot better for him since the move to Anaheim. Perron has three goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating in his first seven games as a Duck.

As for Despres, things haven’t been as smooth since his departure from the Penguins.

The 24-year-old played well in the final month of the season last year, but he missed 42 games in 2015-16 because of a concussion he suffered near the beginning of the season.

He’s been a welcomed addition to the lineup. Anaheim hasn’t lost since Despres returned to the lineup on Jan. 26.

“He hasn’t gotten any points but we haven’t lost since he’s been back,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, via the Post-Gazette. “We missed him for sure. In the playoffs last year, he was as good of a defenseman as we had. Big and strong and played against big opposition and he didn’t tire. The more games he gets, the better he’s going to get.”

The defenseman spent most of his adult life in the Penguins organization and he admits that’s something he’ll never forget.

“I guarantee that I’ll be a little bit emotional for the game [tonight],” said Despres. “Spent a lot of years here. A lot of memories and good friends. A lot of friends in Pittsburgh.”