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Florida Panthers left winger Jonathan Huberdeau is in his 10th NHL season and on pace to score 110 points.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

On a day off during a recent road trip, the Florida Panthers went dog-sledding in Alberta. With the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, players and staff members tried their hands at mushing during a two-hour tour out of Canmore.

“It was my first time,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, the best player on one of the best sides in the NHL. “It is something different and something we could never do in Florida and we all had fun together.

“The dogs know you are behind them and are there to support them. It is really fascinating.”

One of the NHL’s most dominant and underrated players, Huberdeau was paired with defenceman MacKenzie Weegar as six huskies hauled them 10 kilometres over snowy trails.

A day earlier, Canada’s national women’s hockey team participated in an identical bonding exercise under the direction of Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours.

“It was interesting to see how the dogs work as a team and help each other out,” Huberdeau said.

“That was the whole point. You understand that as you watch.”

Things are clicking well for the Panthers, who have made only seven playoff appearances in the franchise’s 28 years. At the midway point of the 2021-22 season, they sit atop the Atlantic Division standing in a tight race with the Stanley Cup defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

At 30-9-5 they have the third-best record in the league behind Colorado and Carolina despite the upset caused by the resignation of head coach Joel Quenneville seven games into the campaign.

Florida was off to a 7-0 start when Quenneville stepped down amid allegations that he participated in a coverup after a trainer sexually assaulted a player when he coached the Chicago Blackhawks.

“We didn’t know the full story or the details, but we felt bad for the victim,” Huberdeau said of Kyle Beach. “You never want to lose your coach, but it was something we couldn’t control.

“When the decision was made, we managed and all supported one another.”

Quenneville’s assistant, Andrew Brunette, has taken over in the interim and the team has barely missed a beat.

Florida heads into a home game with San Jose on Saturday night with 11 victories in its past 13 outings. The run includes lopsided victories over Tampa Bay, Calgary, Vancouver, Dallas, Columbus, Edmonton and Vegas, most recently on Thursday.

After Colorado, the Panthers have the best home record in the league. They also have scored more goals than any other team, are 6-1-2 within the division and are 18-4-3 within the Eastern Conference.

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If they weren’t based in one of the league’s smaller markets – they play their games in Sunrise, on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale – the Panthers have all the ingredients to be one of hockey’s most popular teams: excellent goaltending, balanced scoring and a quiet superstar in the 28-year-old Huberdeau.

In his 10th NHL season the left winger is on a pace to score 110 points – tied for the league lead with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl ahead of Friday’s games – and next weekend will participate in his second NHL all-star game.

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Huberdeau went dog-sledding with the team in Alberta on a day off during a recent road trip.Florida Panthers

Since Dec. 1 he has more points (36) than any other player and although he has elevated his performance a bit it still should come as no surprise.

Since 2018-19, he has the sixth-most points in the NHL after Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Draisaitl, Boston’s Brad Marchand, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Patrick Kane of Chicago.

For perspective, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs are eighth and 12th, respectively, and Alex Ovechkin is 11th.

“I have been here for three years, and he is the best player I have been around,” said Brunette, a former left wing who played more than 1,100 games in the NHL. “He is a real special playmaker. If he was in a different market, his talent would be [more recognized].”

Huberdeau was born and raised in Quebec in a suburb north of Montreal. His parents came to Canada from France before he was born and his first language is French. When he moved to New Brunswick at 16 after he was drafted in the first round by the Saint John Sea Dogs, Huberdeau opted to attend an English-speaking high school because he felt it would create more opportunities for him in life and the NHL.

In his second season in Saint John he posted 105 points in 67 games and was chosen the most valuable player when the team won the Memorial Cup.

The following month he was the third player chosen in the NHL draft after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was taken by the Oilers and Gabriel Landeskog was selected by the Avalanche – and to this point has been more productive than both.

After a bit more seasoning time in the QMJHL, Huberdeau was promoted by the Panthers in 2012-13 and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.

He has since surpassed 600 games, all with the Panthers, and does not desire to play elsewhere. He is in the fifth year of a six-year contract, in which he earns US$5.9-million annually.

He says he is happy to play in the relative anonymity of Fort Lauderdale.

“I don’t mind it,” Huberdeau said. “The recognition and the market does not matter to me. I know what I am worth.”

Over the past four years, Huberdeau has got better along with the team. He has averaged more than a point a game and has become one of its leaders.

“We have had some tough years,” Huberdeau said. “I think in my first three seasons we were close to last in the league. It’s not fun.

“Consistency is the big thing for us, and the biggest thing for me. My goal is to be a player that makes a difference and that is what I am trying to do now.”

He isn’t just trying, he is succeeding.

“From his silky passes to his breakaways, his ability to make plays is unmatched,” said teammate Aaron Ekblad, a defenceman. “He is an all-star and a superstar and one of the best in the league.”

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