Jonathan Huberdeau is finding out that winning the NHL's rookie of the year award brings some nice perks.
The latest one came Monday as he spent his off day at Homestead-Miami Speedway tooling around the 1 1/2 mile oval in a souped up Shelby Cobra Mustang thanks to his friends at Ford.
"It was pretty powerful,'' said Huberdeau, who bought himself a new Mustang convertible not long after arriving in South Florida last year. His track exploits will be featured on the South Florida Ford YouTube page.
"I really enjoyed going out there. I pushed it a little bit. It was great. I was coming in hot on the curves but they gave me some driving pointers. It was pretty exciting. I was very lucky to have a day off and be able to get away from hockey and go out to the race track. I would do that any time.''
One of the downsides of being the Panthers' lone Calder Trophy winner, however, is bigger expectations.
Huberdeau has three goals this season through the first 12 games and none in his past four.
After playing with a hip injury for most of last season, Huberdeau had offseason surgery to correct the problem. Although Huberdeau refuses to use the injury as an excuse, he hasn't gotten off to the start he would have liked.
"If I'm being negative, the puck won't go in,'' Huberdeau said. "I just need to keep skating, move my feet. I need to help this team win some games.''
The Panthers need Huberdeau to be one of, if not their top, forward just about every night if they hope to have any sort of success.
And although his three goals are tied for second-most on the team, Huberdeau knows fans are wondering why he doesn't have more. He feels he should have a few more as well.
"I feel like I'm getting chances, getting the opportunity,'' he said. "The puck may not be going in right now, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I'm going to get one and it'll pick up for me. I'm staying positive about things.''
The Panthers would like to see Huberdeau be a little more aggressive on both sides of ice, and coach Kevin Dineen liked the grit he showed when he used his speed to backcheck Martin St. Louis in the second period of Sunday's shootout loss to the Lightning.
"He put his head down and put his effort into his backcheck as he does for us on the offensive side,'' Dineen said. "He's an elite player because of his hockey IQ as well as his skill set. His game is really starting to take form.''
As for speeding off the ice, Huberdeau says he really had to check the speedometer on the long ride back from Homestead. Being the league's top rookie last year may mean something to a lot of people, but not to the Florida Highway Patrol.
"You really want to go fast after you race around that track,'' Huberdeau said. "But you can't. I had to be real careful."
-- Dineen took advantage of the Panthers having an opening in their schedule to hold a team workout away from the ice on Tuesday. The team will return to the ice at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs for practice Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
The Panthers don't play again until Friday night when St. Louis comes to Sunrise for the finale of Florida's six-game homestand. The Panthers have gone 1-2-2 so far.
"We've been going hard for the past 40, 50 days here with just the odd day off here and there,'' Dineen said. "I looked at the schedule and it looked like a good time to get some quality off-ice time. We're going to hit the ground fresh on Wednesday.''
-- Goalie Tim Thomas finally has his new Panthers-themed goalie mask in and will likely break it out for Wednesday's workout. Thomas, who has been out with an undisclosed lower body injury since last week, skated on Monday and Tuesday and is expected to practice with the team Wednesday.
Thomas can now come off the injured list at any time and would be eligible to play Friday if he feels up to it.
"He's coming along,'' Dineen said. "We'll see where he is."
PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUTH FLORIDA FORD; @SoFlaFord