Some appreciation for Panthers’ All-Star Huberdeau

An appreciation for Panthers' All-Star Huberdeau
Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

Considering how infrequently NHL All-Star Games actually happen,* it would be foolish to judge how great a player is by being named to a roster. On the other hand, such designations sometimes give us a chance to step back and appreciate a player. So now seems like a convenient time to appreciate Florida Panthers All-Star Jonathan Huberdeau.

(Just, uh, don’t get too excited appreciating Huberdeau and the Panthers. Ahem.)

This post aims to capture some of what makes Huberdeau so great. To spice things up, let’s also sprinkle in some speculation as to why he maybe doesn’t get the hype he likely deserves.

* – Between lockouts, COVID interruptions, and even Olympic participation every now and then …

Huberdeau (and Barkov): Not just a big fish in a small (but growing) pond

With some rising stars, you need to dig a little deeper to see someone building up a case. That often goes with defensive-minded players. (Sean Couturier, for instance, gathered steam before putting up the type of numbers that draw mainstream attention.)

In the case of Jonathan Huberdeau, you usually just need to casually glance at the NHL’s list of scoring leaders.

This season, Huberdeau ranks fifth in the NHL with 47 points in 36 games. Currently, Huberdeau stands ahead of Steven Stamkos (45), Brad Marchand (41), Mikko Rantanen (40), and Auston Matthews (38).

Impressively, Huberdeau’s high-scoring dominance goes back further. Since 2017-18, Huberdeau generated 347 points (113 goals, 234 assists) in 324 games. That’s the seventh-most of any NHL player, ranking just behind Artemi Panarin (358 points) and ahead of Alex Ovechkin (337) and David Pastrnak (334).

(Interestingly, Huberdeau and Barkov both averaged 1.07 points per game during that span.)

Simply put, when you draw up a list of the NHL’s best playmakers, Huberdeau must be on it.

The obvious and less obvious reasons why Huberdeau lacks some mainstream buzz

So, why doesn’t his name rattle off more tongues when people discuss the NHL’s elite?

The first set of answers revolve around the obvious.

Since long before Huberdeau joined up, the Panthers have been a black hole of an NHL franchise. They’ve rarely made the playoffs since the fluke run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. Almost unthinkably, that lucky run also marks the last time the Panthers won a playoff series.

Combine that lack of success with a general irrelevance in maybe not the most passionate hockey market, and it’s easy to understand why Huberdeau slips under the radar.

Allow me to posit one supplemental theory: Huberdeau also plays a style that doesn’t generate as many passionate endorsements from an analytics perspective.

This isn’t to say that “fancy stats” frown upon Huberdeau. Yet, as a pass-heavy forward whose defense can be hit-or-miss, he’s not going to get that Selke-like nudge. Consider his player card from Evolving Hockey, which parallels looks from places like The Athletic.

An appreciation for Panthers' All-Star Huberdeau Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

To be clear: none of this discounts Huberdeau’s All-Star status. Yet, on the scale of true elite players, he hasn’t had the mainstream team success to boost his name, and his style falls short of indie darling.

Anecdotally speaking, sometimes truly elite passers tend to look worse by certain metrics. Patrick Kane‘s prime years come to mind, so it’s interesting to see a semi-recent comparison to Huberdeau.

Two big reasons why Huberdeau may get more mainstream attention soon

Don’t let all the Kodak Black flak distract from the fact that the Florida Panthers are a rising force in the NHL.

In a way, Aleksander Barkov missing some time with injuries allowed other Panthers — even beyond Huberdeau — to shine.

While Huberdeau comfortably leads the Panthers in scoring at 47 points, others impress. Aaron Ekblad is dangerously close to a point per game (32 in 35) as a defenseman. Sam Reinhart is quietly affirming himself as a gem, while Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe seem like they could be for real.

Now, the Panthers face some of the thoughts that must rattle around the heads of their division rivals in Toronto, even if the pressure is much lower. They can have a great season, play well in the playoffs, and simply lose in the first round to a stout Atlantic opponent like the Maple Leafs or Lightning.

Yet, even with that risk, the Panthers figure to play higher profile games than ever, and those opportunities should boost awareness of Huberdeau.

[Check out the Panthers and their frequently strong Power Rankings showings]

But mainstream fans also dream of their team stealing great players in free agency. That’s where Huberdeau could jump another level.

Right now, Huberdeau ranks as one of the NHL’s best bargains at a $5.9 million cap hit. However, much like Nathan MacKinnon, that deal expires after the 2022-23 season.

Sure, the Panthers could kill the fun and sign Huberdeau to an extension as early as this coming summer. Not long ago, they did just that with Aleksander Barkov. Still, Huberdeau (28) is older than Barkov (26), and if the star left winger understandably wants to cash in, that could require a very risky contract.

Maybe the Panthers would crunch the numbers and believe that it wouldn’t be feasible to build a team with Barkov, Huberdeau, and Sergei Bobrovsky costing around $30M?

If Huberdeau even flirted with a free agent run, it could be spicy. And maybe it would give him that extra boost he deserves into become a household (for hockey) name.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and started an early blitz that chased the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie, and the Vegas Golden Knights seized control of the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 on Monday night.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Golden Knights, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We finished some plays,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s a good performance for us. Our guys were ready to play.”

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all coming after the first round.

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era. The Panthers will try to buck history beginning with Game 3 on Thursday in Sunrise, Florida.

    Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.