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Centres of Sens' attention: Jonathan Huberdeau

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Saint John Sea Dogs centre Jonathan Huberdeau is coveted by a number of teams, including the Senators, with their first-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, which is set for next week in St. Paul, Minn. (CHL Images).

(The Ottawa Senators hold the No. 6 overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. The Sens have targeted four centres among the prospects they're hopeful will be available when that first-round pick rolls around. We take a closer look at them all this week in a series of profiles for ottawasenators.com).

Jonathan Huberdeau's thirst to improve himself seems never ending.

Whether it's on the ice, where the talented centre led his Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup title last month, or in the classroom — the French-speaking Huberdeau chose to be schooled in English because he knew it would be vital for his future — this is a hot NHL draft prospect who's destined for greatness.

"He's a passionate kid," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com during the Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont., where Huberdeau's terrific play earned him most valuable player honours. "He wants to win every puck battle, he wants to win every faceoff, and that's why he's the player he is. Everything he does ... he does it hard.

"He goes to school, he's an excellent student. He comes to practice, he works hard. He wants to get better, so that's why he's taken it to the next level."

Added Mike Kelly, the Sea Dogs' director of hockey operations: "He's a very, very hungry player. He's a very competitive player. It's probably his No. 1 asset."

During a recent visit to Ottawa to meet with Senators hockey management, Huberdeau spoke like a young man who is forever looking for ways to refine his already considerable game.

"I think I worked hard this season to get better every day and to get stronger," said Huberdeau, a 6-1, 170-pound native of St-Jerome, Que. "The draft is (only) the beginning of your career, but you have to work hard after that to make the NHL."

By season's end, Huberdeau was the No. 3-ranked North American prospect in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. There was even some talk during the Memorial Cup that the 18-year-old centre might challenge for the top spot in the draft, but that seems reserved for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels.

Still, there's a reason the Senators, among others, covet Huberdeau so highly.

"He's the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly," said Chris Bordeleau, who works the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for NHL Central Scouting. "He's displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability ... he's also gritty and does not back down when challenged."

Huberdeau had a huge season for the Sea Dogs in 2010-11, racking up 43 goals and 105 points in 67 games as Saint John posted a dominant 58-7-1-2 record. He added another 16 goals and 30 points in the playoffs. But it was the post-season of a year ago, when he scored 11 goals for a Sea Dogs team that lost the QMJHL final to the Moncton Wildcats, that Huberdeau set the table for a breakout campaign.

"I just took confidence from the playoffs," he said. "Last year, I had a good end of season and I just tried to start (this season) the way I finished last season ... just get better and work on my weaknesses. Every day, I was trying to get better and work on my (things) that I didn't do well and that's why I was consistent all year long."

Ask Huberdeau to compare his game to any current National Hockey League player, and he brings up the names of Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier and Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars. But Kelly, for one, sees Huberdeau as his own man.

"He's got such a high hockey IQ that I don't know that there are a whole lot of limitations on the kid, just because he's such a smart player," he told NHL.com. "His skating's good, (he's) a big strong kid. So if you look at him coming into junior, he looked a little bit like Eric Staal (of the Carolina Hurricanes), yet he's not Eric Staal.

"There's elements of a whole lot of different players. Some nights he looks like (Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer) Steve Yzerman. But then he's not Stevie Yzerman. There's a whole bunch of different elements to his game."

The Sea Dogs figure to be the most popular team at next week's draft, with nine Saint John players ranked by NHL Central Scouting. Four of them are projecte first-rounders, including blueliner Nathan Beaulieu (No. 5 North American) and Huberdeau's linemates, Zack Phillips (No. 15) and Tomas Jurco (No. 20).

"That's nice, to have four guys on our team potentially get drafted in the first round," said Huberdeau. "We'll see what happens. I wish good luck to everybody, all my teammates."


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