2020-21 Season Rewind: Jonathan Huberdeauby Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com
Jonathan Huberdeau filled up the scoresheet once again this season.
Already the franchise's all-time leader in assists (330) and points (498), the dynamic playmaker led the Panthers in scoring for the second consecutive season and also finished tied for 11th in the entire NHL with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 55 games during the 2020-21 campaign.
Of those 61 points, a team-high 24 came on the man advantage.
"I think I proved to myself what I can do and the player I can be," Huberdeau said at last month's locker cleanout. "I showed I can be physical as well. I didn't really know that I could do that, and I know I have a lot of things to look forward to this summer. … As you get older you've got to work even harder. Coming back next year, I want to be the same player but even better."
With several new players added to the roster following a series of savvy moves by new general manager Bill Zito during the offseason, Huberdeau found success throughout the first half of the season while sharing the ice with a pair of newcomers in Alex Wennberg and Patric Hornqvist.
Coming out of the gate with hot stick, Huberdeau opened the season by notching a goal and an assist during a 5-2 win over the Blackhawks on Jan. 17. From there, he went on to post multiple points in six of his next 14 games, including tallying five points against the Predators on Feb. 4.
"We changed the locker room, but this year we all clicked," Huberdeau said of the transition. "It didn't feel weird when we showed up for training camp, everybody got along. I think [Zito] did a good job bringing in good people, not just good players but good people outside of hockey."
Later in the season, it was another new addition that helped Huberdeau reach new heights.
Acquired from the Flames at the trade deadline in April, Sam Bennett and Huberdeau seemed to find instant chemistry together right after the move was made. In the 10 games the two were deployed together to close out the regular season, the Panthers owned lopsided advantages in shot attempts (135-66) and goals (10-1) when they were on the ice, per NaturalStatTrick.com.
"It's been fun to watch," head coach Joel Quenneville said during the line's torrid run.
Heating up down the home stretch, Huberdeau notched at least one point in 11 of the final 13 games heading into the postseason. Earning some national recognition during that stretch, he was named the NHL's "Third Star of the Week" for the week ending April 25 after registering a league-leading seven points (one goal, six assists) over four games in which Florida went 3-1-0.
"He's a special, special talent," forward Frank Vatrano said of Huberdeau shortly after the news broke. "When he's on his game, I don't think anyone can stop him. ... He scores goals, makes the big-time plays. That's great for him to be noticed for that."
Leading the charge once again on offense during the playoffs, Huberdeau paced the Panthers with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) over the team's six-game battle against the cross-state rival Lightning, setting new franchise records for the most assists and points in a single series.
Briefly sitting atop the NHL's scoring leaderboard in the postseason, the 27-year-old winger had four multi-point games against Tampa Bay, including posting a pair of three-point performances.
"It was a really good series," Huberdeau said. "I asked a lot of people all around, they were saying it was one of the best series they've seen. It's cool to see, to create a rivalry with Tampa. They're a really good team but I think we had our chance in this series, it could've went either way. It was intense, every shift was intense and physical. That's playoff hockey and that's why it's so fun, that's what you play for. The intensity goes up in the playoffs and it's a fun time."
Still only just beginning to scratch the surface of the prime years of his career, Huberdeau is confident this past season was a building block not only for himself, but the entire organization as the Panthers now have their sights squarely set on a return trip to the playoffs in 2021-22.
"We were disappointed with the results but a few days after, it's time to think about the positives of this year and the way this year was a lot of fun," Huberdeau said. "We changed our culture around and we won a lot of games. Every game we were in I think we had a chance to win.
"That's what we need to bring next year. The confidence is higher and it's on us as the leadership to do these things. Now we know what to expect from our team and that's what's promising. We're excited for next year."
Huberdeau has become a model of consistency over the past few seasons.
In fact, this was his fourth consecutive campaign in which he accumulated at least 60 points. That number is even more impressive when you take into account that he didn't play in more than 70 games in either of the past two seasons due pandemic-related schedule reductions.
During that productive four-season stretch, Huberdeau ranks ninth in the NHL in points (300), 10th in assists (200) and tied for 28th in goals (100). Of those 300 points, 106 came on the power play -- including 28 goals -- which places him in a tie for ninth-most in the league in that span.
"Consistency has always been a big thing for me, and this year was good," Huberdeau said.
If a player has five points, that's easily his best game of the year, right?
But what if he did it more than once!?
Becoming the only player in franchise history to register five points in a game twice in a single season, Huberdeau racked up three assists before adding a pair of goals in the third period to help the Panthers clinch their playoff spot with a thrilling 7-4 win over the Predators on April 27.
Oddly enough, his previous five-point game on Feb. 2 also came against Nashville.
Video: Huberdeau's night helps Panthers clinch playoff berth
"It doesn't matter the points, really," Huberdeau said. "I just want to help the team offensively. For me, every time on the ice, I just want to create something and be in the offensive zone."
With three assists already in hand, he picked up his fourth point when he scored on the power play to make it 6-4. Then, with 1:37 left on the clock, he recorded his fifth point when he was given an automatic goal to make it 7-4 after he was tripped while skating in on an empty net.
"It's nice to see him get a couple [of goals]," Quenneville said of Huberdeau's strong finish to his outstanding game. "He generated a lot. Benny and him together have been an amazing line."
ASSIST OF THE YEAR
Huberdeau put the rest of the league on notice with this outstanding dish.
Even more impressive than the game-winning goal he would go on to score in overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes on Feb. 17, his spin-o-rama pass to set up Alex Wennberg for a tap-in goal on the doorstep in the third period sent everyone's jaws to the floor.
Video: FLA@CAR: Wennberg buries Huberdeau's spinning set-up
"The pass was the highlight for me," Quenneville said of the eye-popping assist. "I said to him, 'Wow, it's been a long time since I've a play like that.' He goes, 'What about Kaner [Patrick Kane]? I said, 'Well, I don't know, but it's been a while since I've seen something that special.'"
For his efforts, Huberdeau's sweet feed won "Best Assist" in the NHL Fan Choice Awards.
"It just had to be at the right moment," Huberdeau said when asked to break down the pass, which managed to crack the "Top 10" list on SportsCenter later that evening. "I saw Wenny coming in and I just had to do a little spin-o-rama before. It hit his tape, so it was fortunate."
STAY IN TOUCH
Want to see how Huberdeau spends his time during the offseason?
Make sure to give him a follow @JonnyHuby11 on both Twitter and Instagram!