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Huberdeau happy with Panthers hiring Gallant

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Huberdeau blossomed into a top NHL?prospect when he played under coach Gerard Gallant with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, so it figured he would welcome to chance to play for him again.

Huberdeau will get that opportunity with the Florida Panthers in the fall now that Gallant has been hired as the Panthers' new coach.

The question becomes whether Huberdeau can recapture his rookie form under Gallant after a disappointing 2013-14 season.

"Of course I?was excited to hear that news,"?Huberdeau said Monday following a press conference Monday at BB&T Center to introduce Gallant. "Gerard has been a great coach for me. He taught me a lot of stuff when I???was in juniors. That's good that he's coming here right now and I???just need to keep working hard and he's just going to help all the guys on the team."

After winning the Calder Trophy in 2013 on the strength of his 31 points in 48 games, Huberdeau slipped to 28 points in 69 games in 2013-14.

"Jonathan is a great kid,"???Gallant said Monday. "I???had him for three years and his family is great people. Getting the opportunity to grow with him a little bit here more now and to see him develop as a hockey player is going to be great, but the biggest thing is he's an excellent kid.

"He wasn't happy about his [2013-14] season … and he talked about getting better, and we all know he's a very talented kid and he's going to get a lot better."

Huberdeau scored one goal in his final 22 games and also was sidelined by a concussion. However, he gained a good start for the 2014-15 season with a strong performance at the 2014 IIHF World Championships in Minsk, Belarus.

Huberdeau, who had a goal, four assists and a plus-5 rating in eight games for Canada in May, hopes being reunited with his junior coach also can help him.

"It was a hard season for me [in 2013-14] and I've got to bring the confidence back,"???he said. "I think at the World???Championship I???played really good up there, so I???kind of finished my season on a positive note. Now going forward to the [2014-15] season it's going to be great. I???know he [Gallant] is going to help me and he'll talk to me a little bit more when it doesn't go really well."

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said he sought Huberdeau's input once he decided to put Gallant on his list of candidates. He said the player-coach relationship was a bonus.

"That wasn't the No. 1 factor, but it certainly didn't hurt that they had that relationship,"???Tallon said. "We talked to Huberdeau about Gerard as well. I???had great conversations with Jonathan about Gerard, so it was really a plus."

Huberdeau didn't become an immediate star for Gallant at Saint John, finishing with 35 points in 61 games in 2009-10, his first season. But over the next two seasons he had 177 points in 104 games and led Saint John to the Memorial Cup title in 2011.

Huberdeau served as captain for Gallant in the QMJHL, but he's not expecting preferential treatment with the Panthers.

"He knows me a lot by being my coach in junior, but it doesn't mean because he was my coach I'm going to be his favorite,"???Huberdeau said. "You've got to work hard. He's just there to work. He's working with 23 players, so everybody is going to be equal. I???know he's a coach who likes to make everybody feel involved in the team. That's what we need on our team, get all close together. That's what he's going to bring. Of course I'm going to come in here and just be ready and try to get my confidence back."

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