When Jonathan Huberdeau joined the Florida Panthers at the 2011 draft, general manager Dale Tallon only had a handful of players under contract for the upcoming season.
So much has changed since then.
Earlier this week, Huberdeau was the latest — and perhaps final for some time — young member of the Panthers to sign a long-term deal with the team as he agreed to a six-year contract worth $35.4 million. The contract kicks in next season after his current two-year pact expires.
On Thursday morning, Huberdeau said he was excited about the future of the Panthers and happy to be a part of it.
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Since joining the Panthers full-time in 2013, Huberdeau has seen Florida go from a last place squad to one which set a franchise record for wins (47) and points (103) last season all while winning the Atlantic Division title.
“This is exciting,” Huberdeau said, “we all know what we can do as a team. Now we have new owners who take care of us, have turned this team around. We’ve added players and they know what to do. That’s fun to see. Last year, we had a real good year and no one expected that but we did. And that’s the most important thing. Now we’re going into the next year and we’re confident in what we can accomplish.”
Playing on Florida’s top line with Sasha Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, Huberdeau had a career-high in goals (20), points (59) and tied his career-best with 39 assists last season.
The third overall pick in 2011, Huberdeau was sent back to his junior team in 2011-12, joining the Panthers after they won the Southeast Division and advanced to the postseason in 2012.
Florida answered that year with a last-place finish in 2013 and followed that up with a dreadful 2013-14 season. That year, however, saw a lot of change as owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu took over and started their transformation of the franchise.
“The owners have showed a confidence in the core guys by signing all the young guys,’’ said Huberdeau, who won the Calder Trophy as a rookie in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
“We know we have the right players. We believe in each other.’’
The Panthers are now a franchise that is spending money on not only their players, but front office as well.
As for the on-ice product, Huberdeau is the latest to be locked into a long-term deal with the Panthers.
Florida previously signed centers Nick Bjugstad (2014) and Barkov (2016) to six-year deals before signing Aaron Ekblad (eight years), Reilly Smith (five) and Vincent Trocheck (six) this summer — $173.5 million in contract-extensions to its young core.
“A lot of guys signed their contract extensions this summer,’’ Huberdeau said. “It’s good to see all the young guys get locked up like that. I really like it in Florida, we have a great organization. I just wanted to stay there and I’m happy it worked out.”
Huberdeau said he would be returning to South Florida to begin preparing for training camp.
The Panthers begin camp with physicals at BB&T Center in Sunrise on Sept. 22.
The first workout at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs is scheduled for Sept. 23.
“I’m glad we got a deal done so I can just focus on playing hockey with all the guys,’’ Huberdeau said. “I’m really happy with this.”