When All-Star Weekend rolled around in Florida Panthers days of yore, many times the team got the unwritten rule of being granted one attendee — and some years, the league did not even give them that.
Those were definitely not the good-old days for the Panthers.
The Panthers will only have one player on the ice this time around, but that is more due to the way the teams are set up under the current rules.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida’s lone All-Star playing representative, is growing into a bonafide star.
And he plays on a team bursting with them.
Huberdeau is going to get a lot of media attention in Vegas — and a lot of people want to talk about not only him, but his first-place team.
“We’re in a great position, the team is playing well and we’re at the top of the standings,” Huberdeau said. “It’s a great event and I’ll enjoy every moment of it.”
The Panthers may just have Huberdeau playing and Andrew Brunette coaching in this year’s version of the NHL All-Star Weekend, but a good number could have gone as well.
Huberdeau, however, is having the best year of any of them.
When the Panthers took off for the All-Star break, Huberdeau was the leading scorer in the entire league.
And, he still is.
With an assist in Florida’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night, Huberdeau went into the break with a league-best 64 points in 47 games. Huberdeau also leads the league with 47 assists.
“It’s cool to be on top,” Huberdeau said. “I have a few more games, but I would never think in my career … it’s cool. For us, we just want to win games. The individual stuff is cool, but we want to win. I am just happy we’re winning and doing well as a team.”
Friday afternoon Vegas time, Huberdeau will take part in the marquee event of the All-Star Skills challenge: The NHL Fountain Face-Off which will take place on the Fountains of Bellagio on the Strip.
Per the league, eight players “will travel by boat to the ‘rink’ and are required to successfully shoot pucks into five targets in the least amount of time. Qualifying players move to the head-to-head final. Fountain spray and the breeze off The Strip will add to the challenge of this unprecedented NHL All-Star Skills event.’
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Huberdeau did not know he would be part of the fountains challenge although with his stature as a playmaker in the league, it was pretty much assumed he would be.
”It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “I am going to have a lot of friends and family coming so it should be a good time seeing some other guys through the league. The game is always fun. It should be a cool experience.”
Florida captain Sasha Barkov, like a number of his teammates, definitely earned the right to be an All-Star this season as well.
But don’t think there is any jealousy that Huberdeau is the only one representing them.
Barkov said he can’t wait to flip on the TV this weekend, sit back and enjoy seeing what his teammate comes up with on the Strip.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Barkov said. “I’m going to watch the game, watch the skills competition. I’m really happy for him, really proud of him. Everyone sees what he can do on the ice. It will be a lot of fun to see him there and it is a lot of fun seeing him play in NHL games. It’s a pleasure to watch him.”
NHL ALL-STAR WEEKEND
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
- EVENTS: Skills competition, Friday 7:30 (ESPN); All-Star tournament, Saturday 3:30 (ABC/ESPN+)
- WHERE: T-Mobile Arena; various sites in Las Vegas
- PANTHERS PARTICIPATING: Jonathan Huberdeau, coach Andrew Brunette