Bobby Orr. Gilbert Perreault. Denis Potvin. Ray Bourque. Mario Lemieux.
And that's just to name a few.
Add Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau to that list as the Cats rookie was named the NHL's Calder Trophy winner as the Top Rookie Saturday night prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, joining the ranks of some of the greats to play the game.
Huberdeau, like Orr, Perreault, Potvin, Bourque and Lemieux won the award thanks to stellar first years as teenagers. That Calder list doesn't even include some of the other NHL greats such as Pavel Bure, Joe Nieuwendyk, Teemu Selanne, Martin Brodeur, Peter Forsberg, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin who won the award in their early 20s.
"It was a surprise," said Huberdeau, who received his award at the United Center in a live broadcast on NBC Sports Network. "I didn't know I was going to win it."
Huberdeau became the first Panther in franchise history to win the Calder for the league's best rookie. He's the second straight Panther to pick up a year-end individual award, following defenseman Brian Campbell who won the Lady Byng Trophy last year.
It certainly was a close race as Huberdeau nearly beat out fellow finalist Brendan Gallagher (Montreal) by less than 100 points (1141-1048) with Chicago’s Brandon Saad finishing a distant third but the National Hockey Writer's Association went with the 2011 third overall pick after Huberdeau finished tied for the rookie lead in points (31) and finishing third and tied for fourth in goals (14) and assists (17) respectively.
"There's two other guys and there was a lot of good rookies this year," said Huberdeau who turned 20 earlier this month. "Gallagher had a great season as well as Saad too and it's still going for him. I wasn't expecting anything and I'm glad that I won it."
Where Huberdeau seemed to establish himself was playing night in and night out. With injuries ravaging the Panthers lineup from the very beginning of the season, the Saint-Jerome, QC native was a focal point for opponents as a player to stop.
"I know he's a guy that doesn't matter who we're playing, he seems to be matched up against the other team's top pairing and that's a tough thing," head coach Kevin Dineen said before Florida's last home game of the season. "He's a young kid and he's had a great first showing."
Despite the opponents looking to stop Huberdeau when they played the Panthers, the forward posted nine points in 13 games in February on his way to Rookie of the Month honors. He followed that up with 12 points in 16 games in March and six points in 12 games in April.
“For sure it helped me. (It was) more ice time than I was expecting to have but with all the injuries we had, I think I was playing in different roles and I think for sure that it helped me a lot win the Calder,” said Huberdeau who played in all 48 games for the Panthers.
“He's a great young player,” said Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby who picked up the Ted Lindsay Award for the League MVP as voted by the players. “He's got a lot of skill. He seemed to adjust pretty quickly so to get thrown in there with as many games as we had to play over that period of time maybe that might have helped but he certainly had a terrific year.”
And who knows when the newest Calder winner developed his hip problem as he underwent successful surgery on May 14 to fix hip. What might have been of his production if he did not have to deal with the ailment whenever it popped up.
“We knew it was something that was bothering me during the season but at the end we checked it out more and they said that it was the best decision to get surgery now because I'm young, the rehab would be easier now than later,” said Huberdeau who will focus on getting stronger and working towards next season after finishing up his rehab. “The rehab is going pretty well. I think I'm ahead of the process and that's what I wanted to do and I think I'm just taking my time and doing the rehab properly.”
What the writers do know was that Huberdeau was the choice.
“It means a lot. I'm really happy to have this trophy,” said said Huberdeau. “I want to thank the Florida Panthers organization, starting from the owner (Cliff Viner) and GM Dale Tallon and the coach Kevin Dineen. All the coaching staff as well as my teammates. I couldn’t do that as well without my family.”
The rookie had no real expectations entering the season. Now, Huberdeau, who finished second on the team in scoring (behind Tomas Fleischmann's 35 points), is anxious to fully recover from his hip surgery and have an even better sophomore year.
“You play a lot of games and you don't have to think when you play every other day so you don't think about anything,” said Huberdeau. “I wasn't thinking about the Calder all year. I was just playing my game and at the end I got the trophy so it's been good.”
And after that, a great career like the Calder Trophy winners before him.
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