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Huberdeau Skates To Top Of 2011 Draft Rankings

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
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Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer

Jonathan Huberdeau took the non-traditional path in learning how to skate -- and he paid the price.

"My mom and dad wanted me to learn how to skate before playing hockey," Huberdeau told, "so they enrolled me in these speed-skating classes."

Since Huberdeau didn't own a pair of speed skates, he used hockey skates instead. Needless to say, the results were hardly encouraging.

"It was funny," he said. "I always came in last. I would jump out to a lead at the start, but then I'd always look over my shoulder and lose my speed. They'd all catch up and that was it."

Fortunately for Huberdeau, he'd prove himself a worthy candidate for hockey in the eyes of his parents. He was the leading scorer for the No. 1-ranked junior hockey team in the Canadian Hockey League, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"He's still not the fastest, but I'd certainly label him the craftiest on our team," Saint John coach Gerard Gallant told "There are other guys on our team quicker, like (Tomas) Jurco and (Stanislav) Galiev. But when Jonathan has the puck, he's very quick and makes good decisions. He goes East-West, North-South all the time, so I wouldn't say he's the quickest guy from blue line to blue line, but he's among the top three or four, for sure."

Huberdeau is first among nine Sea Dogs on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters.

The native of Saint-Jerome, Que., led the team with 43 goals, 62 assists, 105 points and a plus-59 rating in 67 games during the regular season. His 105 points are not only third in the QMJHL, but the most by a player in franchise history, surpassing the 95 scored by Chris DiDomenico in 2007-08. He has gotten better in the playoffs, compiling 25 points (13 goals) in 13 games as St. Johns faces Gatineau for the QMJHL Championship and a ticket to the Memorial Cup.

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All that has done is land him at No. 3 Central Scouting's final rankings, a spot from his No. 4 position in the Mid-term rankings.

"I think (being No. 4) surprised me a little bit, but I don't want to be cocky about it," Huberdeau said back after finding out his position in the mid-season rankings. "I may be in the top four, but there are a lot of good players after me. I'm going to keep playing the way I've been playing since the beginning of the season, and then we'll see what happens in June."

He's a projected first-round pick for the 2011 Entry Draft, June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn., along with fellow teammates Nathan Beaulieu (No. 5 in final rankings), Zack Phillips (No. 15) and Tomas Jurco (No. 20).

Phillips, Huberdeau's linemate for much of the season, tied for sixth in the QMJHL with 95 points (38 goals).

"His vision on the ice is the best I've seen," Phillips said of his linemate. "He's a winger for me and unbelievable with getting the puck off the boards and up to me at center. We work off each other really well with nice passes and he's rated very high and deserves to be there."

NHL Network analyst Craig Button, a former NHL scout and general manager, has Huberdeau ranked fourth on his draft cheat sheet -- the second-best center on his list, behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

At 6-foot-1 1/4 and 170 pounds, Huberdeau has received high praise for his ability to attack the puck, play strong around the net and excel in pressure situations. Gallant rarely thinks twice about putting Huberdeau on the ice in the last minute of a tight game or in a shootout.

"He's a top player and gets better every game he plays ... our problem is you just don't want to overplay him or use him too much," Gallant said. "He's a quality, character kid. He competes both ways, battles for those goals around the net and competes hard in every situation."

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau, who has specialized in rating players from the QMJHL for 18 years, agrees with Gallant's assessment.

"He's the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly," Bordeleau told "He's displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability."

Scouts have said Huberdeau will need to put on some weight and add some muscle to become an even greater threat and eventual top-line center in the NHL, but that also could be said of every other prospect on the board.

"His vision on the ice is the best I've seen. He's a winger for me and unbelievable with getting the puck off the boards and up to me at center. We work off each other really well with nice passes and he's rated very high and deserves to be there." - Zack Phillips on his linemate
"Once he puts on 10 or 15 pounds, he should be awesome," Bordeleau said following the mid-term rankings release. "He's also gritty and does not back down when challenged. As far as I'm concerned, he's as good as the top three guys (on Central Scouting's list) ahead of him (No. 1 Gabriel Landeskog, No. 2 Sean Couturier, No. 3 Nugent-Hopkins)."

Huberdeau does feel stronger in the tough areas this season and admits he doesn't mind taking a hit if it opens a lane for a teammate.

"I have good vision and good skill with my hands ... and I can play both ways," he said. "They can put me on penalty killing and I'll do the job on the power play. If the coach wants me to play defensively, I'll do that, it's not a problem. I think that's my strength."

Highly regarded Montreal Juniors defenseman Xavier Ouellet, No. 60 on Central Scouting's final list, has faced Huberdeau twice this season and has come away quite impressed. Huberdeau actually had his first of six multiple-goal games this season in an Oct. 10 game against Montreal.

"He's got unbelievable vision and sees everything on the ice ... he's got good hands, too," Ouellet said. "He's a good playmaker and can score. Overall, he's good everywhere. He's not bad defensively, either."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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