When the Panthers finally opened this season on Jan. 19, Jonathan Huberdeau made his much-anticipated NHL debut.
Huberdeau, the third-overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, was thought to be one of the few young players the Panthers would have to depend on.
Yet because of a truckload of injuries, the Panthers have become less of a veteran team and more a junior varsity squad.
On Tuesday night, Eric Selleck became the sixth player to make his NHL debut with the Panthers this season. Selleck also became the 13th member of the Panthers who appeared in the minor leagues this year. Selleck was ejected from Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Carolina for instigating a fight.
Florida and Tampa Bay lead the league with most players to make their debut this season.
“To get a guy to come up and play in their first NHL game, something that’s happened a few times the past few weeks, is always exciting,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “One thing you usually get is a short-term jump from a guy who is in their for the first time. They usually have a lot of enthusiasm.”
Huberdeau remembers his first night with the Panthers fondly — as well he should. Huberdeau came up with high expectations and was thought to be a Panthers regular from the start.
A goal with two assists in his debut only cemented his standing with the team, and he has appeared in all 30 games this season. Huberdeau, 19, leads the Panthers with 12 goals.
“It was great to have my first game be the first game of the season. It was really exciting,” Huberdeau said. “I got a chance to make my debut at home, and it went pretty well. I was happy with it, and I was pretty nervous before it started. Now we have a lot of young players who need to step up. There have been so many injuries, but I think we’ve handled it well. But I didn’t expect to play 18 minutes a night.”
Others, obviously, aren’t in the same boat and had to work a little harder to get the attention of the coaching staff to earn their keep.
Young players stepping up for injury-riddled Florida Panthers
Miami Herald | Mar 21