In years past, had the Florida Panthers lost one of their top scorers off their top line, it would have been devastating.
This season, however, Florida hopes it can withstand the loss of Jonathan Huberdeau.
Huberdeau was lost for the first part of the season — at minimum — after injuring his Achilles’ tendon in a freak accident behind the net in a preseason game in West Point, New York.
One of Florida’s rising young stars, Huberdeau had increased his point and goal totals in each of the past two seasons.
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“He is a big part of our team, a big part of our line,” Sasha Barkov said.
Losing him has been tough, but the Panthers are trying to fill the gap with 25-year-old Jonathan Marchessault.
Barkov jokingly notes the difference isn’t too noticeable.
Marchessault is, after all, a French-Canadian named Jonathan.
The Panthers just hope Marchessault can bring the scoring punch Huberdeau has.
“He does a lot of the same things,” Barkov said. “He’s righty, so that gives us a bit of a different option for shooting. He’s fast and I think fits in well. He’s a great guy. We’ve had no problems.”
Florida’s top line looked good in Thursday night’s opener.
In the 2-1 overtime win, Marchessault took a pass from Barkov in the first period and fired a shot toward the goal. The puck bounced off a New Jersey player and in.
Barkov later scored the game-winner in overtime.
Jaromir Jagr, saluted Saturday with a bobblehead giveaway, didn’t get a point but was all over the ice in the opener, with seven credited shots on goal and almost a dozen shot attempts.
“We had some chances, and it was just the first game we played together,” Jagr said.
“Huberdeau is a big part of our team, our line, so it’s tough to see him get injured in the last exhibition game. New guys get put in, and I thought we had chances in our first game. So, I think we’re going to just get better and better.”
For Marchessault, playing on Florida’s top line is an opportunity he’s been anticipating.
After becoming an NHL semi-regular last season with the Lightning, Marchessault signed with the Panthers for the chance at a bigger role — and more playing time.
He’s getting that and more early on.
“The first game is always tough to get a win, your first goal,” said Marchessault, who played in 45 games with the Lightning last season after playing in just four games total in two previous seasons.
“That’s always on your mind a little bit, so it’s good to get it out of the way a little bit. I’m looking forward to more games, more wins. I think we played well, a lot of positives. We have things to work on. But there are 82 games. Hopefully we improve, play better each game. It’s tough to create chemistry, but it looks like things are going well.”
▪ Marchessault wasn’t the only new face in the lineup on Thursday as nine players — including backup goalie James Reimer — made their Florida debut.
Aside from the free agent signings and newly acquired players, rookies Denis Malgin and Shane Harper also played in their first NHL games.
“My whole family was here, so that was pretty special,” Harper said. “We came out with a win, so it couldn’t have been better. I enjoyed it, took it all in.”
▪ Jagr has been sitting on 749 goals since he previously scored in Ottawa on April 7.
He said scoring No. 750 has a nice ring to it, although he’s looking way beyond that.
“I like 800 better, 900 even better,” Jagr said. “It’s a lot of goals, and I played with a lot of great players. I’m not an elite goal scorer but [played with] great passers during my hockey career.”
▪ The Panthers played the same lineup Saturday as they did in Thursday’s opener, with Shawn Thornton and Steven Kampfer the healthy scratches.
▪ The Panthers are expected to take Sunday off and practice again Monday morning before leaving for their first road game of the season on Tuesday night against Tampa Bay.