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Huberdeau’s ‘phenomenal’ comeback takes Panthers by surprise

Given he missed the first 51 games of the year to a major injury — a lacerated Achilles tendon — Jonathan Huberdeau was expected to ease his way back into the Panthers lineup, limit expectations and get re-acclimated to the rigors of the NHL.

Suffice to say he’s blown that plan out of the water.

“No way did we think he’d jump in and produce the way he is, but he’s in phenomenal shape,” head coach Tom Rowe said, per the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s a terrific hockey player.

“Being on the bench with him every day he’s a lot better than I thought he was.”

Huberdeau has two goals and five points in his three games since returning — and, not coincidentally, the Panthers are 2-1-0 over that same stretch. He’s been reunited on a line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and is averaging 16:14 TOI per game.

That’s down from last year’s 18:09 — expected, given the severity of Huberdeau’s injury — but the TOI could be back up soon, what with Florida in the midst of a playoff push.

Things already appear to be trending in that direction.

Huberdeau only played 15:27 in his most recent game, Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Predators. But he absolutely stuffed the stat sheet — a goal, two assists, five shots on goal, plus-2 rating — and all facets of his game appeared sharp. Rowe spoke of the fitness level, and captain Derek MacKenzie noted there was no rust in the skill department, either.

“He may have some of the best hands in the league,” MacKenzie said, per the Miami Herald. “He worked hard to get his feet under himself to be able to make plays.”

Looking ahead, it’ll be curious to see how Huberdeau’s play affects what Florida does at the trade deadline. Dale Tallon could look at Huberdeau — along with Barkov — as a virtual deadline acquisition, and opt to stand pat.

Of course, Tallon does have a history of adding. Like last year, when he went out and acquired Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler and Jakub Kindl in advance of Florida’s first playoff appearance in four years.

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.