2011 NHL Draft Prospects: No. 3 Jonathan Huberdeau

To be third in the Quebec Major Junior League in scoring is a big deal. It’s an even bigger deal when you lead all draft-eligible players (yes, even the famed Sean Couturier) with a whopping 105 points in 67 games.

That is precisely what Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau has done this season. The 6-foot-1, 171-pound, St-Jerome, PQ native did not quite show up with a bang in his 2009-10 rookie season, scoring just 35 points in 61 games. However, playing on the top line in Saint John this year, he has been one of the most successful major junior players in the continent – scoring 43 goals in the process. Not bad for a kid whose experiences began on a speed skating rink, struggling to keep up with the rest of the group.

“He’s still not the fastest, but I’d certainly label him the craftiest on our team,” Saint John coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com. “There are other guys on our team quicker…But when Jonathan has the puck, he’s very quick and makes good decisions. He goes East-West, North-South all the time.”
The third-ranked skater, according to NHL Central Scouting, has had some impressive highlight reel goals this season (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZHTN4UNQEU&feature=player_embedded) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpXZCtrFaTE&feature=player_embedded#at=16) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0bz_V6G5C6c), along with other scrappy goals that won’t necessarily land you on ESPN’s top plays – but still count nonetheless. His strengths include stickhandling, passing, shooting, and hockey sense. In fact, his decision-making is so acute, and he makes them so quickly, many scouts believe he might be the most NHL-ready player in the draft. That does not mean he will be the best player five or ten years from now. But whatever team drafts Huberdeau sure won’t be sorry with what they receive.

“I have good vision and good skill with my hands…and I can play both ways,” Huberdeau said in an interview with NHL.com. “They can put me on penalty killing and I’ll do the job on the power play. If the coach wants me to play defensively, I’ll do that, it’s not a problem. I think that’s my strength.”

As for his weaknesses, Huberdeau averages in the mid-40 percent range in faceoffs, which will do little to make his NHL coach happy. He is also drastically undersized at 171 pounds and needs to work hard to increase his strength, as do the majority of annual draft prospects. But his willingness to play physically, battle in the corners, in addition to doing whatever it takes to win – be it pass, shoot, deke, or even play defense – will ensure him a spot on an NHL roster.

“He’s the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly,” Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting told NHL.com. “He’s displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability. Once he puts on 10 or 15 pounds, he should be awesome. He’s also gritty and does not back down when challenged. As far as I’m concerned, he’s as good as the top three guys (on Central Scouting’s list) ahead of him (No. 1 Gabriel Landeskog, No. 2 Sean Couturier, No. 3 Nugent-Hopkins). It’ll be interesting to see where he finishes up at the final meeting. Jonathan is in his first full year in the league and Couturier is in his third.”

“I knew he was an excellent passer from seeing him last year, but I didn’t see how aggressive he was going to be at taking the puck to the net and finishing off the play,” said an NHL scout. “He put a lot of work into his shot, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. The puck is going in a lot for him, and I don’t see that it’s a fluke. He’s got some real upside.”

Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.

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