2011 NHL Draft
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Huberdeau shows full range of smarts and skills

Friday, 06.24.2011 / 8:11 PM ET / 2011 NHL Draft
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Huberdeau shows full range of smarts and skills
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- It started last season; it just took some time for the hockey world to catch on to Jonathan Huberdeau, the quiet superstar whose dynamic postseason helped the Saint John Sea Dogs roar into the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

The 17-year-old's scintillating 43-goal, 105-point regular season eventually began to turn heads, earning him the No. 3 spot in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft. The left wing then dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, compiling 16 goals and 30 points in only 19 games as the Sea Dogs won the league title.

Huberdeau saved some of his best for the Sea Dogs' 4-3 win against the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the Memorial Cup opener Friday here at the Hershey Centre, showcasing his slick skills while scoring once and setting up fellow top prospect Nathan Beaulieu's game-winning goal.

"I was feeling good," Huberdeau said afterward.

No kidding.

"He's a special player," Beaulieu said. "There's a reason why he's ranked in the top five in the draft."

But this season hasn't been Huberdeau's coming out party.

Fresh off a 15-goal, 35-point rookie season, Huberdeau busted loose during the Sea Dogs' run to last year's QMJHL final, scoring 11 goals and 18 points in 21 games.

"I go back and say last year really started in the playoffs when the kid took off," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. "You knew he was going to be an elite player."

Mike Kelly, the Sea Dogs' Director of Hockey Operations, goes back even further than Gallant. He knew his organization had a special talent when a 145-pound Huberdeau showed up to his first training camp.

"When he came to us last year in training camp, we knew the boy had a very high hockey IQ, an exceptional player that way -- modest, all the intangibles that you need to become a great, great player," Kelly said.

So how has Huberdeau built on that 2010 playoff run and transformed himself into one of hockey's most coveted prospects?

"You try to work on your weaknesses," Huberdeau said. "My skating, I tried to work on that. I'm not a very speedy guy, but I'm going to try to use my speed and get better and shoot more."

Kelly said "everything's just sort of happened," in Huberdeau's development. He's now listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds.

"He grew a little bit more," said Kelly. "He got a little bit heavier, a little bit more confidence. He's a very, very hungry player. He's a very competitive player. It's probably his No. 1 asset."

Gallant believes that tenacity made Huberdeau a special talent.

"He's a passionate kid," Gallant said. "He wants to win every puck battle, he wants to win every faceoff, and that's why he's the player he is. Everything he does … he does it hard. He goes to school, he's an excellent student. He comes to practice, he works hard. He wants to get better. So that's why he’s taken it to the next level."

The fierce competiveness belies Huberdeau's off-ice nature. He's soft-spoken and polite, someone willing to speak about school as much as hockey.

He has to morph into a different person during games, though.

"I'm trying to change the game," Huberdeau said. "Sometimes maybe I can be a beast."

Not in the classroom, however. Huberdeau's father, Alain, has pushed him to value education.

"My dad would say, 'School's very important.' … School's a big key for me," Huberdeau said. "You never know what's going to happen. That's great that he pushed me to go to school."

Huberdeau's academic focus even raised questions about his availability for the QMJHL, Kelly said.

"That's what's intriguing about him," Kelly said. "He comes from a very, very modest sort of family. That's why there were questions (about) whether or not he was going to come to the league, because school's very important to him, and once you're able to answer those questions, he wants to play."

Huberdeau picked an English-speaking high school this year so he could improve his second language, something he acknowledged "wasn't good" last year.

"English is the world," Huberdeau said. "French, you can't do anything. If you want to work somewhere, you got to speak English."

Kelly added: "If you know the boy, it's easy to understand (his decision). He wants to do the best at everything he does. He was always a very good student. … He just thought there's an opportunity. He didn't want to let the opportunity slide away."

Huberdeau will speak have to speak English on a regular basis if he cracks the NHL next season. He feels he'll be ready if he adds more weight. Huberdeau played center until Gallant switched him to the wing last season so he could skate on a top line. With a dearth of elite NHL centers, however, he could provide some immediate help in the middle.

Right now, however, thoughts of the Draft have been pushed to the backburner.

"You see what happens after the Memorial Cup," Huberdeau said.

With more performances like Friday, Huberdeau could enhance his status. Goals by Majors captain Casey Cizikas, a 2009 fourth-round pick of the Islanders, and Devante Smith-Pelly, a 2010 second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, put Mississauga up 2-1, but Huberdeau tipped a Michael Kirkpatrick shot behind Majors goalie J.P. Anderson for a power-play goal with 2:25 left in the first to tie the game.

After Kilpatrick scored in the second to put the Sea Dogs ahead 3-2, Huberdeau fed a perfect pass in front of the crease to Beaulieu for a power-play goal eight minutes into the third period that put Saint John ahead 4-2.

That goal held up as the winner when Cizikas scored his second of the game 33 seconds later.

Huberdeau said he feels his game is similar to Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier or Dallas Stars playmaker Mike Ribeiro.

Kelly at first didn't want to liken Huberdeau to any stars, but then slipped a little.

"He's got such a high hockey IQ that I don't know that there are a whole lot of limitations on this kid, just because he's such a smart player. His skating's good, (he's) a big strong kid," Kelly said. "So if you look at him coming into junior, he looked a little bit like Eric Staal, yet he's not Eric Staal.

"There's elements of a whole lot of different players. Some nights he looks like Stevie Yzerman. But then he's not Stevie Yzerman. There's a whole bunch of different elements in his game."

He proved that Friday.

Author: Bill Hoppe | NHL.com Correspondent




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

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