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Jonathan Huberdeau expected to add speed, scoring to Florida Panthers

When Jonathan Huberdeau attended the Panthers’ developmental camp in July, he hoped his days of playing junior hockey were over.

Had there been no NHL lockout, had training camp started on time in September, they probably were.

Yet on Sept. 16, NHL players found themselves without a home. Huberdeau, Florida’s newest hot-shot can’t-miss prospect, returned to his junior team in Quebec. Those days of getting his chance with the Panthers were postponed.

Monday, Huberdeau gets his shot.

Fans aren’t the only ones excited to see what the talented 19-year-old has to offer.

“I think he’s a really good player, a guy who is going to be a star in this league,” teammate Tomas Kopecky said.

“He has all the skills. He is very skilled, very fast. The first couple of games may take some adjustment around the corners. But he’s a very smart hockey player. He’ll figure it out.”

Huberdeau, given the No. 11 he starred in for Saint Johns of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will be one of the most highly watched players when the Panthers hit the ice for the first official time in 2013.

The Panthers expect Huberdeau to give them some added scoring. Huberdeau, the third overall pick in 2011, led the Panthers in scoring last preseason before being sent back to Quebec.

Florida isn’t expecting the 43 goals he scored for Saint John two years ago in leading the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup nor the 62 assists he tallied.

The Panthers sure would like a taste of that kind of production, however.

“He’s a team-first kind of guy, a real warrior on the ice,” said Scott Luce, the Panthers director of amateur scouting. “He leads by example and is a character guy. He’s excited to be in Florida. This is where he’s wanted to be from the start.”

Coach Kevin Dineen was impressed with Huberdeau’s game at training camp in 2011 and said it was hard to send him back.

The Panthers decided sending him back was best for his long-term development, as another year in junior would be good for his seasoning and physical development.

Dale Tallon wasn’t thinking about a lockout that spanned five months, however, when they made that decision.

“He’s much stronger on his skates,” Luce said. “Guys are having a hard time handling him.”

As much as Huberdeau wanted to be with the Panthers last season, he understood the Panthers’ decision. Huberdeau will be given the chance to stay with the team for the season if he looks strong in camp and in the first handful of games.

Florida can still send Huberdeau back to finish his final season of junior eligibility.

But don’t count on it.

This is an opportunity Huberdeau has been waiting for — and says he’s not going to squander.

“Last year went pretty well for me. I’m going to work even harder and do anything I can to make this team,” Huberdeau said after taking his camp physical Sunday.

“I’m here and I’m going to work hard. I want to stay here. I don’t want to go back to junior. This is an important week. We have a lot of great veteran players who are going to help me get through it.”

Dineen said Sunday that he would play Huberdeau at left wing, although his linemates haven’t been determined yet. Don’t expect to see Huberdeau mucking it up on the fourth line, however.

The Panthers are looking for him to do some magic with the puck and could line him up with Stephen Weiss or Marcel Goc.

“I will put him in situations where he has opportunity to use his skills and have success in whatever that role may be,” Dineen said.

“We’re enthused to have him come in here. He has some games to really make a statement with his game. We’re going to get a good little look at him against NHL talent. We’ll go from there.”

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