Mr. Golden Sun

Jonathan Huberdeau, the longest active-tenured Florida Panthers player and the franchise’s single-season record holder for assists, earns his place in the sun.

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By Jameson Olive
Portraits by Eduardo Schneider
Shot on location at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Every winter as a child, Jonathan Huberdeau and his family would pack their RV and drive from Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, to South Florida to enjoy a few days at the beach and watch the Montreal Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers. More than two decades since that first excursion south, Huberdeau, kicked back in his locker room stall at BB&T Center, says he no longer feels like a visitor when he’s strolling Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Now in his eighth season with the Panthers, who selected him third overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, the area has become the superstar’s second home.

When he’s not scoring goals or dishing out assists, the 26-year-old winger usually can be found driving his golf cart to the beach, grabbing brunch with teammates or cruising the Intracoastal on a boat with friends. “The weather makes it so special here,” Huberdeau says. “I always say that, but it’s true. It’s always nice here. It relaxes me. I like doing stuff. I don’t like staying in my house, especially when it’s nice outside.” But even in this paradise, his first priority is always work.

Winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2013, Huberdeau’s rise to stardom hit a high point last season when he posted a career-best 92 points and set the franchise’s single-season record for assists with 62. “I’d rather have less points and make the playoffs,” he says. “I say that every year, but obviously when you get points you’re helping your team. That’s what I’m trying to do every night.” So far this season, he’s been doing that and more.

Helping the Panthers get off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history, Huberdeau has led the team in scoring and even managed to achieve a major milestone over the first two months of the 2018-2019 campaign. With three assists in a win over the New York Rangers on November 16, he pushed his career assist total to 252, breaking a tie with Stephen Weiss for the franchise record.

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“It’s cool to get points, set some records,” says Huberdeau, who is also within striking distance of the franchise’s scoring record. “I saw when Jaromir Jagr was here—he was breaking a record every game. I’m not even close to there, but it’s fun to hit some milestones. And that’s what makes hockey so good.”

Speaking primarily French throughout the summer, Huberdeau says his teammates get a kick out of busting his chops whenever a new season begins. Just as he works to get back into a groove on the ice, he also spends training camp brushing up on speaking English. “I’m a little rusty when I come back,” he says in a thick accent. “The guys chirp me a bit, but I’m French. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just get them back with, ‘Hey, I speak two languages; you guys only speak one.’”

If you count the language of hockey, in which Huberdeau is more than fluent, he might actually be trilingual. And with three-time Stanley Cup winning head coach Joel Quenneville calling the shots, he’s part of a talented group of players expected to help the Panthers contend for their first-ever championship in the coming season.

“I want to bring the Cup to South Florida,” he says. “It’d be great for the organization and us players who have been here for a long time.”

Huberdeau still is amazed that a perennial family vacation would serendipitously lead him to the Panthers.

“After my career, I’m sure I’m going to look back and say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty crazy,’” Huberdeau says. “I used to come whenever Montreal and Florida played each other, and now I’m already at eight years in this organization. Time flies.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2019-2020 Issue. 

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