To his left, right, and even in the row behind him, he estimates there must have been about 15 people there with him to enjoy the moment he donned a Panthers jersey for the first time. It was his big day, but being able to share the moment with all of them made it all that much sweeter.
"My family and my billet family were all there," Huberdeau told FloridaPanthers.com in a recent phone interview. "It was good to see the reaction of everyone, all of their smiles. It was great to have their support. I was the one getting drafted, but it was really nice to see all their reactions, especially my parents, my brother and my sister. It's because of my brother, Sébastien, that I started to play hockey. He's a bit older, so I followed him into it. It was nice to see his smile."
In the almost eight years since being drafted, Huberdeau's cheering section has grown well beyond the family and friends that were there with him that day. A Calder Trophy winner in 2012-13 -- the first Panther to be named the league's top rookie -- the 26-year-old's been a staple of Florida's top-six ever since, culminating with a career-best 92 points this season. In addition to scoring a career-high 30 goals, his 62 assists set a new franchise record.
"My game went up this year, especially in the second half," said Huberdeau, who registered 40 points, including 17 goals, over the final 26 games of the season. "I just want to be more consistent out there. That's what I'm going to work on for next year and be good every game."
With the 2019 draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. slated to get underway on June 21-22, FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive recently caught up with Huberdeau to take a look back at his own draft day and where it all started, including his pre-draft buzz and meetings with Florida.
FloridaPanthers.com: What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about your draft day?
HUBERDEAU: It's a day that I'll remember my whole life. It's what you dream about when you're young. Then to finally hear your name announced at the podium, it's something you never forget. Whenever the draft comes around, it always reminds me of that and how special that night was -- the whole experience, meeting all the teams, being nervous about where you're going to go. It was cool. When I watch the draft, it reminds me how lucky we are to play hockey.
FloridaPanthers.com: Did you pay a lot of attention to your pre-draft rankings during that season?
HUBERDEAU: Not really. I was in a different situation. I wasn't even on the list, I think, when I started my 17-year-old season. I didn't think about it all that much. I was just focused on playing.
FloridaPanthers.com: You ended up with 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) in 67 games with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs that season, not including the 30 points (19 goals, 16 assists) you picked up on the way to a Memorial Cup championship. How much do you think that breakout season bolstered your stock heading into the draft that June?
HUBERDEAU: I had a really good year, a good playoffs and a good Memorial Cup. I wasn't thinking about the draft, and I think that's what made it so special when I was where I was on the list at the end, really high up in the first round. I don't think anyone expected that of me early on, so I thought, "Why not just show everyone what I can do?" Then I just exploded that year.
FloridaPanthers.com: You ended up as the third-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting's final pre-draft rankings. Even though it looked like you were going to be drafted high, what were those first minutes like after the clock started on Round 1?
HUBERDEAU: You're nervous. I knew I wasn't going to go first overall, but I wasn't sure if I was going second, third or fourth. You still don't know if you're even going to go that high. There's always a situation that you don't know about. You're kind of nervous and just trying to see where you're going to go. But when the Panthers got up there, I was confident that it was going to be me. I'm fortunate that Dale [Panthers GM Dale Tallon] said my name. I was really excited.
FloridaPanthers.com: How much of that confidence came from your pre-draft meetings with the Panthers?
HUBERDEAU: Yeah. I had a good feeling. The interviews were funny. There was no pressure and they were trying to make me feel comfortable. Honestly, you never know. They probably said a few of the same things to other guys, but obviously I was confident about them and they were confident about me. I was lucky to go there.
FloridaPanthers.com: Do you remember what Dale said to you when you got on stage after being drafted?
HUBERDEAU: I was too nervous. I don't even remember what anyone said to me [laughs]. I think it was just something like, 'Welcome to the Panthers family.' You don't really think about what they're saying. You're just so nervous. You got up there, get your hat, put on your jersey and take a picture. Then the rest of the night is pretty much a blur. It all goes so fast.
FloridaPanthers.com: How was that post-draft gauntlet of doing media and photos?
HUBERDEAU: It's busy. You don't have much time to take it in. You get drafted and then for two hours you have media, pictures and signatures. There's a lot of movement, but after that you get to take pictures with your family and stuff. It's a good feeling. Then the next day you just decompress and take it all in.
FloridaPanthers.com: How'd you and your family celebrate after the draft?
HUBERDEAU: I think we just stayed at the hotel. I enjoyed the moment with the family and then just went to bed.
FloridaPanthers.com: Your family had been visiting Sunrise for years before you were ever drafted, driving down in an RV to watch the Panthers play the Montreal Canadiens. Given that history, how happy were your parents that you ended up becoming a Panther?
HUBERDEAU: They were really happy. For my dad, he wanted me to go to Florida. He didn't tell me before, but after it was all done he told me he was really hoping I was going there. It worked out. Fort Lauderdale and Sunrise have always been special for me. When I think about it, it's crazy that I got drafted there. There were 30 teams, but I ended up there, the place I'd go every winter. It's kind of special.
FloridaPanthers.com: I'm sure you have a lot of framed jerseys, but where does the one from your draft reside?
HUBERDEAU: It's at my parents' house, along with a picture of my draft day. I was actually lucky because it was the 2011 draft, so the jersey just happens to also be No. 11, which is my number as well. That's pretty cool.
FloridaPanthers.com: At the time you were drafted, the Panthers were in the early stages of a rebuild. Did you feel any kind of immediate pressure given that you were expected to be such an important building block of the team's future?
HUBERDEAU: I wasn't really thinking about that. When you're coming in, you're just focusing on yourself and wanting to prove you can play in the NHL. That's what I did. You don't want to be selfish, but you want to get there and work on yourself and prove to the team that you can play. I didn't make the team the first year, but after that I had the chance to play the second year. It worked out perfectly for me.
FloridaPanthers.com: As someone who's already traversed the path from draftee to star, what kind of advice do you have for the next generation of Panthers about to be drafted?
HUBERDEAU: I'd say just enjoy every moment. I'm proud to be a Panther. It's a great organization, but don't worry about where you're going. Just enjoy everything. It goes by so fast. It feels like it was just yesterday, and now it's been eight years. It's crazy. Just take it all in. If you're not drafted in the first round and you're expected to be there, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what round you're drafted in. There are a lot of good players in the NHL that were taken in the fifth and sixth rounds. It doesn't matter where you go, you're going to get your chance.