Florida Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-2 victory on Thursday night that helped proved why the 19-year-old forward is leading the race for the Calder Trophy in 2013.
St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Tampa Bay Lightning winger Cory Conacher have also been impressive this season, and both are worthy of being finalists for the Calder, but Huberdeau is the favorite to win the award right now.
Huberdeau earned four points (two goals, two assists) and a plus-three rating against the Flyers. He also made a spectacular move (video below) to beat Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on the first penalty shot of his young career. It was the first four-point game by a rookie this season.
The Panthers forward ranks second in scoring among all NHL rookies with 13 points, first in goals (eight), fifth in shots (34) and fifth in power-play points (three). Huberdeau is also the only rookie leading his team in goals and points.
More importantly, Huberdeau is playing a lead role on a team that needs someone to step up and contribute offensively on a consistent basis.
Florida ranks 24th in goals scored and only five players on the team have scored more than seven points through 16 games.
Thanks to Huberdeau's great start to the season, the Panthers are only four points away from the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference after a terrible 1-5 start.
Although he's not known for his defensive play, Huberdeau is tied for the team lead with a plus-three rating and also has six takeaways to go with 10 hits.
The young forward's improvement defensively this season is a very encouraging sign for the Panthers and it proves that Huberdeau has the ability to become an elite NHL center in the near future.
There was a lot of pressure on the former No. 3 overall (2011) pick to play like a star right away and become a face of the franchise early in his career, and thus far, Huberdeau has lived up to expectations.
His impressive performance at both ends of the ice at even strength and on the power play is not getting the attention it deserves, primarily because he plays in a non-traditional hockey market, and that will motivate Huberdeau to play at an even higher level for the rest of the year.
Huberdeau has been more responsible for his team's success than any other rookie in the NHL this season.
With 10 points in his last 10 games, the Panthers star is well on his way to leading all rookies in scoring and securing an invitation to the 2013 NHL Awards as a Calder Trophy finalist.
Nicholas Goss' Calder Trophy Rankings (As of February 22)
- Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA): 16GP, 8G, 5A
- Cory Conacher (TBL): 16GP, 6G, 9A
- Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 17GP, 6G, 6A
- Alex Galchenyuk (MTL): 17GP, 2G, 8A
- Dougie Hamilton (BOS: 14GP, 1G, 7A
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.