On the final day of February, Florida Panthers rookie sensation Jonathan Huberdeau was named the National Hockey League’s rookie of the month.
Huberdeau currently leads all rookies with 10 goals and is second in points with 15. Through 22 games, the Saint-Jerome, Quebec native also leads in shots on goal among rookies with 62 and averages the second most minutes on the ice of any rookie forwards with 16:45 per game. On the Cats, he is first in goals and tied for the team lead points as well.
The bigger question though is, in this shortened season, is Huberdeau a prime candidate for Calder Trophy honors? Here are 11 reasons why ”Jonny B Goode,” as he’s been nicknamed on a FloridaPanthers.com headline, should earn Rookie of the Year honors.
- Huberdeau is performing even though his team is overall struggling–leads team with 10 goals
- Stats, stats, stats – Huberdeau is second or better in multiple categories (goals (1st), shots (1st), offensive rookies TOI(2nd))
- Competition in his own locker room – with fellow Panthers’ rookie and line mate Drew Shore, who has 2 goals, 8 assists thus far.
- Actually the rookie age –Unlike Tampa’s Cory Gonacher (Age 23), who leads rookies in assists & points, Huberdeau is still a teenager (Yes, technically, a first-year player is deemed a rookie through age 25 according to NHL.com, but still age/experience should be a factor at some point).
- Scoring big when he scores – In half of the games Huberdeau has found the scoresheet, he has done so multiple times.
- Shining bright in a (currently) dull team –The Panthers have the least amount of wins the eastern conference and are tied with Columbus for the least amount league-wide. Huberdeau still garners league-wide attention even though his club is looking more and more ready to tee it up for eighteen when late April roles around.
- Living up to the immediate hype – Similar rationale to reason No. 4, but more so as Huberdeau leads the top rookies who had no pro experience (American Hockey League, Kontinental Hockey and ECHL, etc.) prior to this season. Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov is the only other current top five (in points) rookie who did not play in any pro hockey league before this season began.
- Keep the teen trend going –The past three top rookies and four of the last five Calder winners were teenagers throughout their entire inaugural NHL season.
- Here’s Johnny! – if Huberdeau were to win the rookie of the year, he would be only the second, John, Johnathan, Jonny, Johnny, etc. to win the prestigious award. The only other “John” to win the award was Montreal’s John Quilty after the 1940-1941 season.
- The Panthers have never had a rookie of the year winner – Believe it or no Florida rookie has ever been awarded the Calder.
- It’s been awhile (24 NHL seasons to be exact) since a Quebecer won the Calder. Luc Robitaille, a native of Montreal, was the last French Canadian to earn top rookie honors after the 1986-1987 Adam Henrique was a finalist last season, but was beat out by Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog.
I realize Nos. 10 and 11 aren’t stats or on-ice performance based, but my rationale for these reasons is simple.
#10–Even the Atlanta Thrashers had a rookie of the year once (2001-2002 Dany Heatley) in 11 seasons before flying north to Winnipeg. It’s baffling to me how the Panthers, who have had 11 top 10 draft picks in 20 drafts, haven’t produced a top rookie in any of those seasons.
#11–A quarter of a century is a long time, especially when you’ve had more than enough top talent come out of Quebec. (Mario Lemieux, Jocelyn Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon, Sean Courtier, Danny Briere. I could go on for hours.)
I qualify all of these arguments with a sheer fact: Huberdeau must at the very least keep the current pace he’s on through the final 26 games of the Florida season. If the Cats get into a hunt for the playoffs and even make it, that will only help Huberdeau’s Calder résumé.