The Florida Panthers suffered a major blow on Saturday night as Jonathan Huberdeau was injured during an exhibition game in West Point, New York.
On Sunday, Florida said the rising star is expected to miss three to four months with the injury.
Huberdeau, who recently signed a six-year extension with the team, suffered what appeared to be an Achilles tendon injury to his left leg in Saturday’s 4-2 preseason victory over the Devils.
Huberdeau, 23, was injured in the first period Saturday after the skate of New Jersey’s Sergey Kalinin came down on Huberdeau’s ankle. According to coach Gerard Gallant, Huberdeau received stitches after the game and was in a walking boot.
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“He got cut pretty bad with the skate,” Gallant said Sunday morning. “We’ll see what happens. We’re obviously hoping for the best. Will it be two weeks? Two months? We don’t have a timeframe. The MRI will tell us a lot.
“You have to move on. He’s a real good player. But we’ll make no excuses. Injuries are part of every team.”
Florida is now scrambling to find replacements for two top positions.
Center Nick Bjugstad is out a month with a broken hand and could see 19-year-old Denis Malgin fill that spot.
Gallant has a few options to replace Huberdeau alongside center Sasha Barkov and winger Jaromir Jagr although none as good as Huberdeau.
Huberdeau led the Panthers in scoring with 54 points off 15 goals in 2014-16 and had career highs last year with 59 points off 20 goals.
“We’re going to have to look at things over the next couple of days,” Gallant said. “We haven’t discussed it all but will on the plane coming home. We’ll see where it goes. We’re hoping for the best with Jonathan. You just don’t replace a player like that.
“Huberdeau looked great in training camp, added about 10 pounds of muscle. We were real happy with the way he came to camp, the way he was playing.
“This is real disappointing to him and to us. We just hope it isn’t long term.”
In more pleasant news Sunday, the Panthers officially named center Derek MacKenzie as the team’s newest captain at a team gathering at West Point.
MacKenzie, 35, was the captain for Florida’s game on Saturday with Aaron Ekblad and Jussi Jokinen serving as alternate captains.
That will be Florida’s on-ice leadership team moving forward.
“It’s hard to put into words right now,” said MacKenzie, who succeeds Willie Mitchell as Florida captain.
“It’s a bit overwhelming. Obviously, we [named Mitchell captain at West Point in 2014] and those are big shoes to fill. Honestly, we have a great group of guys here and it could have gone to any of them. For them to think of me is pretty special and something I’ll never forget.”
Before leaving for West Point, Gallant praised MacKenzie’s leadership from his role as Florida’s defensive-minded center position of the Panthers fourth line.
MacKenzie signed a three-year deal with the Panthers in 2014 and was given a two-year extension in the offseason through 2019.
“He lives the right way, has character and the players see his work ethic every day,” Gallant said. “Derek treats people the right way. We brought him here [from Columbus] because of his work with younger players.”
Some speculated Ekblad, Florida’s star 20-year-old defenseman, would be named captain as he has become the centerpiece of the team after signing a franchise-record eight-year contract extension worth $60 million in the offseason.
When Edmonton named 19-year-old Connor McDavid captain, Gallant was asked about the possibility of Ekblad wearing the ‘C’ this season.
“It means nothing what other teams do, believe me,” Gallant said. “Edmonton thinks he’ll be a good captain; he’s a young kid and a star hockey player, so, good for them. That’s good for Connor, he’s a great player and is going to be a great captain for a long time.”
Said MacKenzie: “We have some superstars here who will be wearing this in the near future.”
As for Gallant’s decision on Florida’s next captain, he said he looked at his locker room and the player he thought would best lead them.
Apparently that person is Derek MacKenzie.
“It’s about the person and what he brings to your locker room,” Gallant said Friday.
Florida Panthers Captains
Brian Skrudland 1993-97
Scott Mellanby 1997-2001
Pavel Bure, Paul Laus 2001-02
Olli Jokinen 2003-08
Bryan McCabe 2009-11
Ed Jovanovski 2013-14
Willie Mitchell 2014-16
Derek MacKenzie 2016-present