Mon Dec 26 09:00pm EST
EDMONTON — If this keeps up, Jonathan Huberdeau will prove a left-winger can be popular in Alberta.
Granted, the Edmonton Oilers have a pretty good left wing named Taylor Hall who was playing in the world junior just two yeas ago, plus a young Mark Messier once scored 50 goals from that spot before moving to centre. The big takeaway from Canada's 8-1 filleting of Finland, though, was how Huberdeau, brought back gradually in the past two weeks from a broken foot, was the pace-setter with a five-point afternoon. He's back, then.
"I played some exhibition games and I was not at my best," said Huberdeau, whose ice time was limited in the final two exhibition games last week vs. Switzerland and Sweden. "It's feeling way better, but my conditioning [stamina] is little bit behind. I have tok keep working on that and it's feeling better every day."
It often seems like Huberdeau doesn't have the cachet among hockey fans that a NHL lottery pick and reigning MasterCard Memorial Cup MVP rates. Maybe the mindset now is to be a Doubting Thomas about any top draft pick who does not advance directly from the draft floor to playing full-time in the NHL à la Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose presence here is seen only in concourse advertisements.
Perhaps the Saint John Sea Dogs are too far off the radar for the Toronto-dominated media. Last spring, at least one T.O. scribe wrote about the Memorial Cup in Mississauga lacking star power even as Huberdeau was pretty much replicating Hall's tour de force from 2010. While their styles are dissimilar, each capped his draft year by leading his team to a Memorial Cup played outside their home region.
He won't be unknown — or called Hoobadoo — in any pockets of the world junior-watching country now. Huberdeau set the tone just 2:14 in. He and fellow high draft pick Ryan Strome criss-crossed behind the net, giving Huberdeau a chance to set up in Wayne Gretzky's office. A quick centring pass and Stone rapped it in for the first of his three goals.
"Those two guys can play with pretty much everybody," Stone said. They work hard to get the puck and I just just have to put my stick on the ice, really."
Huberdeau easily could have had a six-point night. On one play in the first period he coaxed a turnover from Teemu Pulkinnen, making the Finn think he had room to fire the puck up the boards and clear the zone. Huberdeau cut it off. The puck went quickly to Stone, but his centring pass eluded a wide-open Strome. Remember, it was their first time skating together.
"He's such a skilled player," Strome, whom the New York Islanders drafted No. 5 overall two spots after the Florida Panthers selected Huberdeau in June. "You can just see it in practice with the patience he has with the puck."
"That's what we were looking for, a big win early on," Strome added. "the crowd was so loud, it was tough to hear, but we got two goals in the first 4 1/2 minutes and just went from there."
In hindsight, there should have been little surprise the Strome-Huberdeau-Stone troika gelled so quickly. The two wings hit it off well during Canada's summer development camp. The hope was that Ryan Johansen, who was Schenn's right wing last year in Buffalo, would fill the No. 1 centre spot. However, Johansen made the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.
Meantime, entering the opener, coach Don Hay's focus was on slowing down Finnish star Mikael Granlund. Tweaking the lines to do so meant Huberdeau and Stone would have a new centre.
"They played very well together with Ryan Johansen in our summer camp," Hay said. "Once we started putting together a line to play against Granlund we had to start eliminating centre. Strome was the guy who fit in there and did a really good job. Stone just continues to score goals for us and it's great to see Jonathan get some confidence."
It is debatable Huberdeau lacked for it, aside from the uncertainty about whether he'd be physically limited in the tournament. Meantime, having gone through four playoff rounds last spring with the Sea Dogs, he might have a read into how to refresh and refocus. Beating Finland by seven goals was unexpected, but Canada rolled in its opener vs. Russia 365 days ago, too.
"It's a short tournament," Huberdeau said. "You have to be ready every day. It's a lot of games in a short period of time."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).