What was expected to be a routine Florida Panthers practice at Saveology.com Iceplex Monday morning turned into a newsworthy event when head coach Kevin Dineen talked to the media after the skate.
Dineen announced that Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson
will start the season with the club and make his NHL debut Saturday when the Cats visit the New York Islanders, but the noteworthy comment was overshadowed by the news that prospect Jonathan Huberdeau
will not skate with the Panthers this season and will be returned to his junior club, the Saint John Sea Dogs.
"He made that an extremely tough decision for us, given his maturity as a person and his play," 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."
Dineen repeatedly talked about Huberdeau's skill, which was evident this preseason as the 18-year-old posted three goals and one assist in five games, leading the club in goals and tied for the team lead in points. The head coach said that impressive performance made it "very tempting" to push Huberdeau's progression, but it was ultimately the right call to let him develop in juniors with the Saint John Sea Dogs, a program Dineen referred to as "excellent."
While Huberdeau would have certainly welcomed a chance to play in the NHL this season, he admitted that he agreed with the decision.
"It's just precaution; I'm not that big and I don't want to get hurt this year," said the Panthers 2011 first-round pick (3rd overall).
The Saint-Jerome, Que., native admitted that he felt outmuscled against league veterans and talked about getting stronger during the upcoming season.
Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon echoed Dineen and Huberdeau's sentiments on the decision in his session with the media this afternoon.
"It was tempting, really tempting. But you've got to make the decision that's best long term, for the kid's benefit and our benefit," said Tallon. "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."