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Panthers sign 2011 No. 3 pick Huberdeau

by Adam Kimelman
Jonathan Huberdeau, the third pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on Monday.

"We are pleased to have signed Jonathan," said Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon. "He is a proven winner who leads by example both on and off the ice. He is a great two-way player who shows passion for the game and makes players around him better. Jonathan had an excellent preseason and we look forward to his progress this season with Saint John."

Huberdeau led the Panthers in the preseason with 3 power-play goals in five games, and his 4 points tied for the team lead, but he still was returned to his junior team, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, at the end of training camp.

He can't play for the Panthers this season except under emergency conditions.

"He made that an extremely tough decision for us, given his maturity as a person and his play," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said of Huberdeau. "At this time, he still has some physical maturing to do and that is better suited at the junior level."

Tallon said as appealing as it might have been at the time to keep Huberdeau with the big club, it was the right decision was to return him to Saint John in hope he adds some muscle to the 171 pounds he currently carries on his 6-foot-1 frame.

"It was tempting -- really tempting," said 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.

"You've got 220-pound, 30-year-old guys leaning on him; he's not playing against 160-pound, 170-pound kids. 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."

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.

With Huberdeau back, the core of that Saint John team -- which also includes forwards Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu -- are back, and Huberdeau should have a starring role for Canada's team at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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