Winnipeg Jets at Florida Panthers Gameday Questionnaire: The Johnathan Huberdeau edition

Nick Laham

We catch up with our pals at Litter Box Cats, asking them three burning questions leading into tonight's contest.

The Winnipeg Jets will hope to reverse recent fortunes and get back in the win column as they visit a struggling Florida Panthers squad later tonight.

As part of our gameday coverage, we had a few questions relating to the Panthers before we reach opening puck drop.

With that, here's Kevin Kraczkowski of Litter Box Cats in today's instalment of Gameday Questionnaire:

1. Was there any surprise amongst fans when the Panthers announced that Jonathan Huberdeau would not be returned to junior? Furthermore, what are the expectations going forward? Tempered or sky-high?

There are those who expected to see him in 2011-12, but it was decided that he should spend the season in juniors to bulk up his frame a little. His appointment to the big leagues in 2013 has long been a foregone conclusion to all but the most uninformed of Panthers fans and a return to juniors would have been a huge surprise.

After scoring a goal and two assists in game one of his NHL career, we all had our eyes on the sky as far as Huberdeau’s upside. Expectations have tempered a bit since then, but he’s a legitimate threat to score 20 goals and add 50 assists in a full season.

To anyone who thinks it may have been a mistake to bring him up this year, frankly, the Panthers don’t seem to have anything to lose by exposing the kid to the NHL at this point. In fact, when you add Drew Shore and Quinton Howden to the equation, I think it’s the right time to give these youngsters a taste of the big time. A short season together may be all the exposure they need.

2. Seeing as Florida made little more than tepid roster splashes compared to the during the offseason, is it still fathomable that they could win back-to-back Southeast Division titles?

Had you asked me two weeks ago, I would have been very firmly of the opinion that the Panthers were a threat to repeat. On paper, the team looks great. Unfortunately for us (not for you), a combination of top line injuries, inexperience, and general rustiness have conspired to have this team appear to be an underwhelming lot.

In a shortened season, there isn’t really a lot of time to right the ship before it’s too late to challenge for a playoff position. Now 1-5-0, the Panthers will need to gain 52 points in the next 42 games to even be in the conversation. There's still a possibility, but it's looking increasingly doubtful with each passing loss, as the Panthers struggle to score, kill penalties, keep the puck in the offensive zone, challenge opponents on the boards, control rebounds, heck even complete the occasional pass.

Yes there is a possibility that the Cats finish the season on top of the division. I put that possibility somewhere around 10% at this point.

3. When will Jacob Markstrom finally take the reigns as Florida's starting goalie?

The sooner the better.

"The Alien" has showed that he has what it takes to play in this league. Now in his fourth professional season, there’s no better time than the present (well, maybe midway through the season) to give him his chance. I’ve long been of the opinion that the Panthers front office will trade starter Jose Theodore for some solid offense or maybe some draft picks before this seasons’ trading deadline. With the 2013 postseason already starting to fade from the realm of possibility, it’s a good time to get the kid his NHL legs.

Ed. Note: We thank Kevin for giving us his time in this edition of Gameday Questionnaire. If you want to read the Q&A we did with them in collaboration for tonight's game, it can be found HERE. Look for our next edition Friday with our pals at Raw Charge.

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