In NHL.com’s Q&A feature, titled “Sitting Down with…,” we speak to key players from the game and get a glimpse into their lives on and off the ice. In this special edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we feature the Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeauwho finished second in the NHL with 115 points and led the league with 85 assists this season.
LAVAL, Quebec — The NHL offseason is always a time of change. The Florida Panthers have a new coach, Paul Maurice replacing Andrew Brunette a month after they were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference.
Forward Jonathan Huberdeau said he was looking forward to playing for Maurice.
“I don’t think it’s easy saying goodbye to your coach,” Huberdeau said. “Brunette has done a great job again this year but adding Paul will be easy, I can’t wait to talk to him, see his philosophy and of course the way he runs [the] Winnipeg [Jets] was pretty good. You know, he wasn’t fired, he kind of left (he resigned December 17). And I’m just looking forward to talking to him and seeing what he’s up to and I’m looking forward to hearing from him.”
As preparations begin to learn a new coaching system and a new defensive strategy for a team that certainly knows a thing or two about scoring after leading the NHL with 337 this season, Huberdeau’s summer days will change too. After setting a Panthers record for points this season, some of those days are spent playing ball hockey to keep the mind hockey sharp, but with the added benefit of cardio because, as he said with a smile, ” You can”. I don’t really glide, so you have to run all the time.”
Huberdeau will be hitting his home province’s rinks a few times between now and September’s training camp to play a few 4-on-4 games with friends or take part in a small tournament or two. The version he’ll be playing is a little different from the 5-on-5 competition he saw at Place Bell on Thursday, where the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation chose the best of the sport in the ball hockey World Championships 2022 presented. It’s also a contrast to the way he played growing up in nearby Saint-Jerome.
“Every kid plays street hockey growing up and it’s so much fun and obviously that’s more organized,” said Huberdeau, who has been playing the more structured version for about eight years. “When I was young we didn’t have that kind of league. So it’s good that they’re expanding the game in Quebec and I just think a lot more younger people should be playing this game. I think it’s more accessible too. There is less equipment and then most people can walk. Skating is a bit more difficult, but I think it’s just a good sport. And I feel like a lot of people are making it accessible to them.
As a brand ambassador for Knapper, a ball hockey equipment company, Huberdeau is committed to promoting the sport in and outside of Quebec. He was on hand to chat and sign autographs with fans – which he admits meant a lot to him – before heading into the Canada men’s dressing room for a pep talk ahead of the Greece game. NHL.com then met with Huberdeau to discuss a variety of topics, including his take on Maurice’s signing and the past season.
Paul Moritz was just introduced as coach of the Panthers. Your opinion on him and what he brings as a coach?
“Obviously he has a lot of experience. I think it will help us next year. I think you need experience.”
He coached Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship when they played for the team. What do you remember from this experience?
“He was an assistant coach but he was quite calm. I think he’s a great coach who’s really good at talking [give] great speeches and such. I’ll ask around and see how he’s doing. Of course we always want feedback, but I’ve only heard good things about him.”
How important is it to have an experienced coach in the NHL?
“It’s important, especially with our team. We’re a bit younger and obviously we’ve learned a lot this year. We have experienced leadership. We have the same core, so I think he can come and help us.” Assistant coaches too, but I think obviously it’s a guy that will help… lots of experience. You can tell. I think Paul will do the same to us [as previous coaches with experience].”
You are now a few weeks away from playing. What do you think in general about how things have gone this season?
“I mean, obviously we’ve had a great year. We’ve learned a lot. Of course, the playoffs didn’t end the way we wanted, but I feel like now we know we’re a playoff team. This year we have we made the playoffs and lost.” [in the] second round – at least we’ve won a first round (beat the Washington Capitals in six games) for the organization in a while – and I think that can only help us. Next year we will come again, we are more confident. … We know we can get into the playoffs and get a good spot, and after that it’s just about playing with more detail, you know, being a better team in the playoffs.
Video: FLA@WSH, Gm3: Huberdeau opens the gate early
There’s always a conversation that learning to face adversity and assert yourself like the Tampa Bay Lightning did is a learning process. Considering you’re a younger team, how important was it for your team to make the playoffs, win a round, face adversity and start the new season now?
“I feel like every team goes through that. You see Tampa [Bay] Let yourself be carried away by Columbus [Blue Jackets]won two straight [Stanley Cup titles] after. Sometimes something like this has to happen to give you more confidence. I feel like we’re playing on each other’s heels a little bit and you don’t play with as much confidence and you see Tampa, they play with confidence. They do not care. … They won two [Cup titles] in a row and you can tell. They play, they block shots, the details [Andrei] Vasilevskiy is a great goalkeeper and that’s all you have to do. Much of it is detail. We have to do that.”
Personally, you had a career year and were in multiple ballots for the Hart Trophy, voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the most valuable NHL player for their team. Looking back, what do you think of your season?
“A hell of a year for me, I can’t ask for more. I’ve played well. I’ve been consistent and a good leader. But obviously it was just how I learned a lot in the playoffs. I didn’t play my best hockey (five points, one goal, four assists in 10 postseason games), but I think obviously in the playoffs it’s always more difficult and you have to learn from that and deal with it”, too. If you make the playoffs, it never will… it won’t always go your way. And next year you’re just going to be a better, better player. And I want to continue what I’ve done this year and continue into the playoffs.”