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Jonathan Huberdeau making it a tough decision for management in Florida

Sep 28, 2011, 10:51 PM EDT

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2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One Getty Images

Jonathan Huberdeau isn’t making life easy for management in Florida these days. You’d think the team would be ecstatic about their third overall pick’s performance in his first NHL training camp. After all, everyone wants their players succeed at the highest level, right? But Huberdeau has been exceeding just about all expectations—and now the organization is faced with the real decision of putting the 18-year-old on the opening night roster.

How’d this happen? Wasn’t Huberdeau the kid who was supposed to be good in a couple of years after he put on some much needed weight?

There’s no simple reason the Quebec native is still in the mix as the Panthers whittle their roster down to 23 players. For one, he’s been a beast in his first two NHL preseason games with the Panthers. Not only is he showing that he can hang with others trying to make the NHL, he’s showing that he’s one of the best players on the ice. He’s scored a pair of goals in his two preseason games and has earned “star of the night” honors in each contest.

Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen isn’t closing the door on Huberdeau making the team:

“The opportunity is out there. Jonathan’s done a very good job of showing everything he can at camp to make a statement for his case. He’s shown his skill set, his work ethic; he’s very respectful. He’s shown a quiet confidence. We think the world of him as a player, as well as a person.

“He’s doing his part.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just stellar play from the #3 pick. Mike Santorelli injured his shoulder and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. The Panthers have publically said that they expect him to be back sometime between opening night and Halloween. If he were to miss most of October, it would open up a spot for one of the fringe forwards looking to make the big club. Surprisingly, Huberdeau’s part of that group.

It might be the best of both worlds for Huberdeau that he’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do in the first nine games of the season. Performing well against good AHL players in the preseason is much different that thriving against NHLers in the regular season. Let’s face it: not all the players he’s faced in the preseason are going to be on opening night rosters.

A nine-game audition while Santorelli recovers would be the perfect opportunity for Huberdeau to get a taste of the size and speed of NHL players, as well as getting a taste of the expectations of being a professional athlete. There’s no substitute for a young player to see what professionals go through on a daily basis—from eating and health habits to on-ice preparation.

If he struggles on the ice or the Panthers decide there is no good role to make the most of his talents, they can easily send him down to St. John to continue to work on his overall game. The Panthers would also save a year on his entry-level contract as they face a potentially rough season in the standings. Then again, if he’s unquestionably ready for the show, they may want him to do his learning at the NHL level without the pressure of team expectations.

Regardless, watching the Panthers handle the Huberdeau situation should be one of the more interesting storylines as teams finalize their NHL rosters.

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