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FRESHMAN RUSH: Jonathan Huberdeau Making Case for Calder Trophy

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- The Florida Panthers have won very few NHL awards during their 18 seasons.

Pavel Bure, the biggest star the franchise has known, won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in a season twice.

On awards voted on by peers or by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, only Brian Campbell has won, bringing home the Lady Bing Memorial Trophy for "gentlemanly play" from Las Vegas last summer.

Jonathan Huberdeau would like to add to the Panthers' modest trophy case and is considered a favorite to be a finalist for the league's rookie of the year.

No Florida player has won the Calder Trophy, although Huberdeau -- with a strong finish in the final month -- could make a strong case to be the first.

"He has great creativity to his game, is a smooth operator in tight spaces,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "I think he is a very good teammate in which he understands the hierarchy of the dressing room while understanding he's an important part of any success we're going to have.

"He needs to play a strong game for us night in and night out and I think he's done that consistently for us.''

After Tuesday's loss in Toronto, Huberdeau was ranked first in the league among rookies in goals with 12 and second to Tampa Bay's Cory Conacher with 21 points.

The competition for the award is going to be stiff, with Conacher (24 points) and Montreal's Brendan Gallagher (nine goals, 18 points, plus-8) being the top challengers right now.

Huberdeau being a well-known player in Canada should help him, however, if his numbers are there. A top-end junior player, Huberdeau was the third overall pick in 2011.

Voters, the PHWA selects this one, may also be swayed by Huberdeau's youth (he's just 19) and consider he may not have the talent surrounding him with the Panthers that others do.

"I think he's in good shape, especially when you look at some of the guys he has played with compared to the other candidates,'' said David Shoalts, a national hockey writer based in Toronto for the Globe and Mail.

"He's really on the radar of the voters.''

Huberdeau's chances have been hurt by his recent dry streak as he hasn't scored a goal in nine games although he has assists in four of the past six games.

"I'm still learning. I have a lot to learn,'' Huberdeau said. "I got off to a hot start but I need to keep going. Things have been slow a bit, but I need to keep going. Keep things simple. You play so many games in the NHL, you can't be negative if you have a bad game.''

Although Dineen says he knows what Huberdeau is going through, perhaps the pressure of being one of the few players on the Panthers who has been scoring consistently has wore on him.

Huberdeau once led the Panthers in goals, although Tomas Kopecky caught him. Shawn Matthias got his 10th on Tuesday.

"I definitely want to put up some points, help our team win some games,'' Huberdeau said.

THURSDAY: SABRES AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WSBR 740-AM
The series: Buffalo leads 43-27-4
The game: This has been a disappointing season for the Sabres, one that cost longtime coach Lindy Ruff his job. Buffalo's three game winning streak was snapped with a loss in Tampa on Tuesday. Florida went 2-3 on its recent five-game road trip -- dropping the final three games.

PHOTO BY JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

FRESHMAN RUSH: Jonathan Huberdeau Making Case for Calder Trophy

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