Huberdeau’s ‘phenomenal’ comeback takes Panthers by surprise

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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.

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