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Panthers return Huberdeau to junior team

by Adam Kimelman
Jonathan Huberdeau led the Florida Panthers in scoring in the preseason, but it wasn't enough to earn him an NHL spot this season.
The team announced Monday that the third pick of the 2011 Entry Draft would be returning to his junior team, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Despite leading the Panthers in scoring this preseason, Florida decided to return Jonathan Huberdeau to his junior team. (Photo: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)
Huberdeau led the team with three goals in five preseason games and his 4 points was tied for the team lead. All 3 goals also came on the power play, an area the Panthers definitely could use help -- they were last in the League with the man-advantage last season. However, Huberdeau's lack of size and strength -- he's 6-foot-1 and just 171 pounds -- made a return to junior hockey seem like the right decision for this season.
"He made that an extremely tough decision for us, given his maturity as a person and his play," coach Kevin Dineen said of Huberdeau, before adding, "at this time, he still has some physical maturing to do and that is better suited at the junior level."
Huberdeau's return to the Sea Dogs makes them a favorite to repeat as Memorial Cup champion. He'll also be a top player for Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
Last season, Huberdeau was third in the QMJHL with 43 goals and 107 points, led the QMJHL in the playoffs with 16 goals and then won MVP of the Memorial Cup by totaling 3 goals and 3 assists in four games.

That skill was obvious in his preseason action, but it's one thing to score against teenagers; it's another to do it against bigger, stronger men over an 82-game NHL schedule.
"It was tempting -- really tempting," said Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon. "But you've got to make the decision that's best long-term, for the kid's benefit and our benefit. You could tell there's a vulnerability as far as the size, but we know we didn't mess up on the draft, that's for sure.
Huberdeau certainly was disappointed by the decision, but understands and agrees with it.
"It's just precaution; I'm not that big and I don't want to get hurt this year," he said.
It's also the same tact the Panthers used last season with the third pick of the 2010 draft, defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson spent last season with his junior club, the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, and Dineen also announced Monday that Gudbranson would start the season with the club. Gudbranson still can be returned to his junior team, but it's expected he'll see top-four ice time with the Panthers this season.
As for Huberdeau, Tallon said he saw enough to know that sending Huberdeau back is the right decision today and for the future.
"You've got 220-pound, 30-year-old guys leaning on him; he's not playing against 160-pound, 170-pound kids," he said. "And you go deeper into the season, more vulnerability as far as getting hurt, and we're here for the long haul. We know that he can play. … It's exciting for our franchise to know we have that."
Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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