Jonathan Huberdeau’s name is littered all over the Florida Panthers record books, but on Saturday, he takes control of a big one.
When Huberdeau takes the ice against the Ottawa Senators, he will do so for the 655th time during the regular season.
That will pass Stephen Weiss (2002-13) as the Panthers’ all-time leader in games played.
”In my opinion, he is an MVP candidate this year,’’ coach Andrew Brunette said before the game. “To see him grow in his leadership the three years I have been around him is really cool to see. During the years, he steps up when Barky is not around and the season he has had has been unbelievable.
”In his career, he came in and was Rookie of the Year. He has lived the ups-and-downs of this franchise and is one of the staples since he has been here. He’s a little of the identity of our team, being such a fantastic playmaker.”
When it comes to what he means to the franchise, Brunette said “pretty much everything.’’
Over his first 654 games, Huberdeau has already become the franchise’s all-time leader in points and assists — and was the first player in Florida history to hit the 500-point mark.
Huberdeau currently has 189 goals (second to Sasha Barkov) and 397 assists for 586 career points.
“Obviously, it’s a smaller franchise that hasn’t been around as long, but I’m fortunate that it’s my tenth year here and that the owner (Vinnie Viola) believes in us,” Huberdeau said in October when Barkov got to the 500 point mark.
“Me, (Aaron Ekblad) and (Barkov) are the same core group and we haven’t been winning a lot and he still believes in us. Now is the time for us to show up. … We want to win as a team and that’s all that matters.”
Huberdeau has been through a lot of low points with the Panthers since being drafted third overall by the team in 2011.
The Panthers missed the postseason in six out of Huberdeau’s nine seasons and failed to advance past the first round in each of their three playoff appearances in that span.
This season could be different, however.
Florida currently holds the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 43-14-6 record, just two points behind the Colorado Avalanche in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
Huberdeau has been a huge part of that success.
He is currently third in the NHL in points with 88 and had a league-leading 67 assists on the season.
Huberdeau had to do a lot of heavy lifting when Barkov went down with an injury on Nov. 16, missing most of the next month.
During that stretch, he had 19 points in 14 games, the seventh-best scoring rate at the time.
Even after Barkov and the Panthers returned on Dec. 29 after the NHL’s brief Covid pause, Huberdeau did not slow down.
Since the Panthers returned to play, Huberdeau leads the entire league in points with 55 in 33 games.
But now, he will have an even lighter load to carry.
The Panthers picked up some reinforcements at the trade deadline, most notably making a blockbuster trade to add Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Florida now has one of the deepest rosters in the NHL and it takes them one step closer to reaching their, and Huberdeau’s, end goal — winning in the playoffs.