SUNRISE, Fla. -- It’s never easy being new guy, but Florida Panthers forward Jiri Hudler seems to already be warming up to his new surroundings.
In an effort to add some veteran depth to their young forward group, the Panthers sent a second-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2018 to the Calgary Flames in exchange for the 32-year-old Hudler on Feb. 27.
"I didn’t know where I was going to end up," Hudler said via conference call shortly after being traded. "I’m really excited, really happy to go to a young team like that, especially with the way they play."
In the two weeks since his arrival, Hudler has already managed to win over both teammates and fans as his lighthearted attitude and on-ice production are proving to be invaluable assets for the first-place Panthers as they push towards the playoffs.
Recently, FloridaPanthers.com’s Jameson Olive caught up with Hudler to discuss a wide range of topics, from his transition to South Florida to his love of miniature dog jerseys.
OLIVE: What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out that you had been traded to the Panthers?
HUDLER: It was the first time in my career that I’d been traded. It was mixed feelings, because I’d spent four years with the same guys in the [Flames] locker room, getting to know their families. I was really happy to go to a team like this one, though. We’re obviously in a playoff spot and it’s an exciting young team to play with and watch.
OLIVE: The Panthers are a team that has prided themselves on chemistry throughout this entire season. We’re you worried that it might be difficult to ingratiate yourself with such a tightknit locker room this late in the year?
HUDLER: I don’t think that was going to be a problem for me. I’m a pretty outgoing guy. I didn’t like the fact that I had to wait at home for three or four days, because I was excited to play and get to know everyone. It’s been pretty easy to settle in because this group is young, laid-back and very friendly.
OLIVE: Panthers center Nick Bjugstad told me that you were already cracking jokes during your first practice with the team. Are you someone that this team can count on to lighten up the mood from time to time?
HUDLER: Ah, I don’t know about that [grins]. I’m just trying to be myself and be a good teammate.
OLIVE: In the seven games since your arrival, you’ve already scored three goals, including a two-goal performance against Boston on March 7. How much easier has that early production helped smooth your transition?
HUDLER: It’s been nice to contribute. We had a rough game against Boston, but took two points from Ottawa. It’s all about winning right now. We’ve got a tough stretch coming up these last 15 games, so we’ve got to focus on the details and make sure we’re ready to play.
OLIVE: Someone who always seems ready to play is your new teammate, Jaromir Jagr. As a native of the Czech Republic, what’s it been like playing with not only a legend of the game, but also a fellow countryman?
HUDLER: It’s been amazing. It’s fun to watch and it’s incredible to see what he’s been able to do for over the last 20 years. He’s still got the drive and he fits perfectly in this group.
OLIVE: Like Jagr, it seems that you also have a knack for bringing out the best in young players, such as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan during your time in Calgary. What is it about your game that works so well with up-and-coming forwards?
HUDLER: I don’t know. I just make sure that we’re on the same note. You’ve got to have fun playing, especially with the young guys. That’s what I try to tell them. I’m always telling them, “Lets work hard. Let’s have fun and play in the offensive zone, because it’s a lot more fun than being back there [in the defensive zone].”
OLIVE: Speaking of having some fun, your dogs became somewhat famous last season when a picture of them wearing miniature Monahan and Gaudreau jerseys surfaced on social media. Are you planning on giving two of your new Panthers teammates the same treatment?