Here is a story that Matthew O'Brien submitted:
Every September a crop of fresh faced 18 year-olds keep the GMs that drafted them up at night with the
dilemma of whether they need another season of conditioning in their respective developmental league
or if they are ready to play the game at the highest level. In most cases, it is players that are drafted in the top 5 that come with a lot of hype surrounding them, by scouts and fans, that are most
likely to make the jump the year they were selected. This year, it’s Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida
Panthers that is giving Dale Tallon fits as to whether or not he should remain in South Florida.
For the past decade, the Panthers have made a habit of rushing their young players into the NHL with
mixed results, something which Tallon has promised to stop. But the question is, at what point does a
player prove that he can play in the NHL, especially if you are more inclined to send him back?
This preseason, Huberdeau has averaged about a point a game which includes the rookie
camp games against Tampa Bay and Nashville, as well as adding a goal in the intra-squad scrimmage
on the first day of training camp. For a player that was relatively unheard of before climbing the charts
late last season and going on to win the Memorial Cup in St. John’s, that’s impressive. Heck, for any
player that’s impressive.
It’s not like the goals that he’s scored have been meaningless. He has scored tying goals, winning goals, and goals that start comebacks, two of which were powerplay goals-- something everyone knows this team desperately needs. He has also added assists on important goals in games as well. The kid just flat out creates offense.
The major question surrounding Huberdeau is if he is big and strong enough to play at the NHL level for a full 82 games. This has a very difficult answer because it’s not always easy to tell. At this point, no, probably not. However, keep in mind that Dmitry Kulikov has done it in the past for the Panthers, and Jeff Skinner did it for the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Neither of these players were particularly big in their first camp, but they had the work ethic to continue to improve and to get stronger each passing day. In listening to his interviews and learning what kind of person he is, I would say that Huberdeau
has the same work ethic as the two aforementioned young stars and it is in my opinion that the best
way for a player to learn what it takes to be an everyday NHL player is to be exactly that, but only if they are ready. For a guy like Huberdeau, just being in that atmosphere will help him mature faster into the superstar we all know he will be.
On the flip side, sending a kid back to juniors can have its benefits as well. It can give them a chance to
be one of the top players in the league where everyone knows who they are, a good confidence boost,
instead of struggling a little bit to make a name for themselves in the NHL. They can also get experience
in leadership positions by representing their country in the World Junior Championships and serve as a
role model for the younger kids on the teams. This allows a safe environment for these kids to be better
prepared to make an impact in their rookie years. The Panthers have also gone this way before, for
instance with Erik Gudbranson. The big defenseman was probably capable of playing in the NHL last year and who knows how that would have turned out, but instead, Gudbranson returned to the Kingston Frontenacs where he excelled, fine tuning his game to be ready to make the switch. He also helped lead Team Canada to a silver medal against Russia in the WJC, and has said that the extra year in juniors has prepared him to be an NHL regular this year.
As you can see there is a very fine line between allowing a player to make the jump to the NHL at age 18 or giving him another season of conditioning in juniors and neither is clear cut wrong or right. It’s true, you can rush a player, but that’s usually due to the fact that they are not ready to put in the work to
make it at the highest level. For Jonathan Huberdeau it would be a travesty to send him back to the Q,
he has proved game in and game out this preseason that he is ready to not only join the NHL but begin
to make an impact on a team that has been starved for a superstar of their own.