When the Florida Panthers brought veteran winger Alex Kovalev in to their training camp and then signed him to a contract for the 2013 season, it might have been considered a bit of a gamble by the team. After all, Kovalev didn’t play in the NHL last season and only appeared in 22 games for Moscow Oblast Atlant of the KHL. So far this season he has shown he still has something left in the tank, but his value for the Panthers extends past anything that may show up on the stat sheet. As rookie winger Jonathan Huberdeau continues to have a Calder-worthy season, the presence of Kovalev with the team to help in his development is extremely valuable.
Kovalev has appeared in more than 1300 NHL games, scoring 430 goals and over 1000 points. He has two goals and two assists this season for the Panthers. Huberdeau has five goals and eight points through the Panthers’ first twelve games and while the two might not see as much ice time together now as they did early in the season they both continue to be some of the strongest performers for the team.
Huberdeau was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft and continued to play for the QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs during the lockout. He had 16 goals and 45 points through 30 games there before joining the Panthers. The 20-year age gap between the two players makes no difference on the ice as they try to improve on Florida’s biggest weakness from a 2012 playoff appearance – a lack of top-end scoring. For Huberdeau, who is from the Montreal area and watched Kovalev play for the Montreal Canadiens as a youngster, this season has continued to be an amazing dream come true.