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Panthers will rely ‘heavily’ on Huberdeau in sophomore season

Sep 25, 2013, 9:56 AM EDT

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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) Getty Images

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.

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