SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers locked up yet another pivotal piece of their talented young core on Wednesday, signing left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau
to a six-year contract extension, ensuring the skillful playmaker will remain in Sunrise through at least the 2022-23 season.
“Jonathan is a highly talented and dynamic player who is another important piece of our team’s young core,” Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. “In each of his last two seasons he has posted over 50 points and has developed into a key component of our team’s offense.”
A first-round pick (third overall) of the Panthers in the 2011 draft, Huberdeau played his fourth full NHL season in 2015-16, scoring a career-high 20 goals and 59 points in 76 games. The 23-year-old also ranked tied for second on the team in assists (39) and shots (174), while playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr on Florida’s top scoring line.
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound native of Saint-Jerome, Quebec has amassed 172 points (58-114—172) in 272 career games, all with Florida. He became the first player in franchise history to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2012-13 and suited up for Team Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Belarus.
Not long after the ink had dried on his new contract, Huberdeau sat down with FloridaPanthers.com’s Jameson Olive to discuss, among other things, exactly what went into his decision to commit long term to the Cats.
OLIVE: How does it feel to sign a long-term extension with the Panthers?
HUBERDEAU: It’s great. I’m really excited to be a part of the team for the next seven years. I think it’s a big step. I believe in the organization and they believe in me. It’s good to see that. I’m really happy to sign an extension.
OLIVE: What was your reaction after finally putting pen to paper on your new deal?
HUBERDEAU: We were all happy. As a player, you work hard to get a deal like this done. I wanted to stay in Florida. My family was happy. We had a great dinner and celebrated a little bit. Now, it’s time to get back to work.
OLIVE: After your entry-level contract had expired, you signed a two-year bridge deal in September of 2015. How much did that deal motivate you to go out and earn a long-term extension?
HUBERDEAU: When you sign a bridge deal, you want to go earn a good contract after that. I mean, that’s what I did. I worked hard and was rewarded at the end of that. I only played one year on my bridge deal before signing this deal. It shows (the Panthers) have confidence in me, and it’s good to see that. The owners (Vincent Viola and Doug Cifu) are great people.
OLIVE: Have you received any congratulatory texts yet?
HUBERDEAU: Yeah, I did. Some guys -- Trocheck, Ekblad, Bjugstad etc. -- texted me and said congratulations and stuff. It’s fun to see that. When they signed, I congratulated them.
OLIVE: Speaking of your teammates, you are one of several players to sign a long-term extension with the Panthers this offseason, joining the likes of Aaron Ekblad (eight years), Vincent Trocheck (six years) and Reilly Smith (five years). How does it feel to know that you’ll be competing and growing with that talented group of players for at least the next several seasons?
HUBERDEAU: I think it’s fun. (The Panthers) kind of decided who the core guys were going to be and also brought in some really good veterans. There were a lot of extensions and a lot of contracts signed this summer, which was cool to see. We all get along together, and I think (the Panthers) see that. That’s why they’ve been signing the young players on this team to long-term deals. They know what they’re doing and I’m glad I’m part of that.
OLIVE: When a player signs a big contract they’re usually expected to treat their teammates to at least a few dinners. With all the new deals that were handed out this summer, who’s picking up the first meal this season?
HUBERDEAU: I don’t know. I think there’s going to have to be a lot of dinners [laughs].
OLIVE: Aleksander Barkov, who signed a six-year extension in January, has been centering you for the past two seasons. How much has that top-line tandem helped your career and how excited are you about the possibility of it continuing for many years to come?
HUBERDEAU: He’s such a good player. He’s unbelievable. Every time he’s on the ice, I’m probably a better player when he’s with me [laughs]. I’m just fortunate enough to play with a guy like him. He’s signed long term, too. It’s good. Hopefully I can play with him all the years I’m here in Florida.
OLIVE: How far do you think you’ve come since your rookie season in 2012-13?
HUBERDEAU: You gain so much experience by playing many seasons. I felt way more comfortable and more consistent last year. To improve every year, I think that’s what you have to do. Last year was my best year and I want to keep improving. I want to be better every year. As you get older you gain leadership, experience, and I think that’s supposed to help you. You also get stronger, so you’re supposed to be a better player.
OLIVE: The Panthers reached the playoffs last season after winning the Atlantic Division with a franchise-record 103 points. What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
HUBERDEAU: We expect a lot of things from our team. We don’t really mind what other people think, it’s just about us and what we can do. Last year we showed it, but this year is a new season. We want to have a good start, be prepared, and have good chemistry on and off the ice. Who knows what we can do next year? Hopefully we can go far. The goal is to win a Stanley Cup.
OLIVE: What’s your best memory with the Panthers thus far?
HUBERDEAU: There were so many good memories from last year. I think making the playoffs was a big step for us. Now, we have to make the playoffs again and go as far as we can. I think that the best memories of my career are still to come.
OLIVE: What’s your favorite thing about playing hockey in South Florida?
HUBERDEAU: I mean, everything. The weather is nice. It’s always nice going to practice with shorts and flip-flops [laughs]. I haven’t played for another team, but last year I just had so much fun, you know, going to the rink. When you win, it’s much better. When you have fun with your teammates, it’s even better. That’s what we had last year. I think the fan base is going to continue getting better if we keep winning and get into the playoffs, but we’re not worried about that. This year is going to be a lot better.
OLIVE: You scored a career-best 20 goals last season, and every one of them was accompanied by “Huby Dooby Do!” chants on both Twitter and television. Now, with another season of goal scoring on the horizon, I know Panthers fans are just dying to know: What are your thoughts on this unusual nickname that just doesn’t seem to be going away?
HUBERDEAU: I like it. It’s something unique. When I first heard it, I thought it was fun and it was funny. It made everyone kind of laugh. Here, even in my hometown, people call me that. When I score, it’s fun hearing “Huby Dooby Do!”