Reunited in South Florida
Jonathan Huberdeau and New Head Coach Gerard Gallant Experienced Success Together Before
On June 15, 2012, Gerard Gallant accepted an assistant coaching position with the Montreal Canadiens. Gallant joined the Canadiens coaching staff in the wake of three monstrously successful campaigns as the head coach of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs which saw Gallant win back-to-back QMJHL and CHL coach of the year awards, while leading his team to two QMJHL titles, a Memorial Cup, and three consecutive 100-point seasons.
With the move to Montreal, Gallant parted ways with dynamo Sea Dogs captain Jonathan Huberdeau who had compiled 281 points in the previous three seasons under Gallant and who had been drafted with the third overall selection by the Florida Panthers at the 2011 NHL Draft one year prior.
Gallant was a part of a renaissance in Montreal; helping the team to the playoffs in each of his two seasons as an assistant while Huberdeau joined the Panthers for the 2012-13 season where he was honored for his strong debut with the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Now, with the Florida Panthers announcing that Gallant will fill the teams head coaching vacancy, the agents of fate have conspired to reunite Gallant and Huberdeau. The mentor and the student, back together. The same roles as before but this time it is the NHL that they will attempt to take by storm.
Jonathan Huberdeau joined the Saint John Sea Dogs as a quiet, undersized, 16-year-old who barely spoke a lick of English. His play on the ice did the talking, and it only took a few scrimmages for new head coach, Gallant, to realize that there was something special about this teenager from Saint-Jérôme, Quebec.
“I remember going to training camp, I wasn’t the biggest guy,” recalled Huberdeau. “I think I played two or three scrimmages and right after the third one he [Gallant] met with me and my dad and he said, ‘I’m going to take him, he’s going to play.’”
And play he did. Huberdeau played in 61 regular season games and 21 postseason games during his first QMJHL season (2009-10). Gallant was not afraid to use his young star and Huberdeau credits his head coach for putting him in situations to succeed at such a young age.
“He was giving me chances that a lot of players wouldn’t have on another team by being 16 years old.”
Those early chances set Huberdeau up for his breakout 2010-11 campaign when he tallied 105 points in 67 regular season games and an additional 30 points in 19 playoffs games while leading the team to the QMJHL title and the CHL Memorial Cup.
Huberdeau looks at Gallant as one of the most important mentors in his career, and the person that can help him achieve the next level of NHL success.
“He was a great coach for me, a great mentor. He’s a good reason why I’m in the NHL right now and I’m pretty sure he can get me to the next level,” said Huberdeau.
Gerard Gallant has earned himself a reputation as a coach who excels at developing young talent. After his success in the QMJHL, Gallant went on to become an integral coach of a Canadiens team littered with young players. Ranked 27th in the NHL the season before Gallant joined as an assistant, the Habs achieved back-to-back berths in the playoffs these last two seasons, making a run to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final before falling to the New York Rangers.
Huberdeau believes that Gallant’s strong communication skills are a big reason why he has been so successful with young players.
“As a player you really like the coach talking to you and that is what he does,” said Huberdeau. “He just comes to tell you what he thinks about you, what he wants he wants you to do better. I think that is a plus for young guys.”
Gallant’s experience with young players is a plus for the Panthers who have a roster full of young talent. That Gallant and Huberdeau have an already established relationship and a history of success is an added bonus. Now as Gallant takes the helm for the Cats, the reunited duo has the chance to continue their relationship and create new success with the Florida Panthers.