June 25, 2024

Flames’ Jonathan Huberdeau ‘going in the right direction’

‘I just want it to be, at the end of the game, you’re proud of yourself because you did something good out there’

Asked a few days back about Jonathan Huberdeau’s recent play, Calgary Flames head coach Ryan Huska pushed his arm in the air, motioning toward the ceiling.

“I keep feeling like he’s going in the right direction lately,” Huska said. “When he’s executing and making plays, you know that he’s starting to feel really good about himself, and I’ve seen that much more from him over the last little while. It’s a good thing. It’s a positive sign, for sure. We need him.


“There’s no doubt about it — when he’s feeling good about his game, he’s a better player and I think he brings other people along with him. Since the turn of the new year, he has been a pretty consistent player for us.”


Indeed, Huberdeau has been more much impactful since the calendar flipped to 2024.


If increased point production was his New Year’s resolution … well … the Flames’ first-line left-winger didn’t change his mind midway through January like so many of us not-so-go-getters.

“For sure, you say that in your head, but it just happened like that,” Huberdeau told Postmedia, insisting there was no special midnight declaration on Dec. 31. “But for me, it was important to have a good start to this new year. Not to forget about before, because I learned a lot from that, but just don’t look back, keep looking forward.


“You know, whatever I did before, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s about now. Everybody will remember what you do in the present or in the future.”

Huberdeau is producing just shy of a point per game in 2024, with five goals and a team-high 15 assists in his past 21 outings.

Some will argue that’s still underwhelming bang-for-buck — he is, after all, collecting US$10.5 million this winter, the highest cap hit in franchise history — but it’s a significant jump for a guy who was averaging a measly 0.44 points per game from October through the end of December.


He was a hot topic then, a target for constant criticism.


Of late, there has been a lot less conversation about No. 10. It’s been a case of ho hum, another point for Huberdeau. He is second on the team scoring charts in 2024, trailing only Nazem Kadri. His longest slump so far in this calendar year is two games without an offensive chip-in.


While nobody was talking about Huberdeau after Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, he made a couple of crucial contributions in a 6-3 slump-buster against the Edmonton Oilers.

With the Flames already leading by a pair, the 30-year-old created a turnover by swiping the puck from Brett Kulak in front of the benches. On the ensuing rush, Noah Hanifin buried his first of two goals on the evening.


The hosts had shifted the momentum in the middle frame, but that changed when Huberdeau found linemate Dryden Hunt with a slick saucer pass. That fantastic feed floated past Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a wide-open Hunt, who ripped a shot inside the post from the high slot for what would ultimately stand as the game-winning goal.

“It’s more than the (stat) sheet,” Huberdeau stressed. “For me, it’s more to be a threat on the ice every time I’m there. I think I’ve been better at making plays. Sometimes, it’s not always going to finish. You know, you get some bounces sometimes. But that’s what I kind of go for … I just want it to be, at the end of the game, you’re proud of yourself because you did something good out there.”

It certainly hasn’t come easy for Huberdeau, who arrived in Calgary to sky-high expectations — the result of his 115-point pop-off with the Florida Panthers in 2021-22 — and has been hard on himself for failing to live up to the hype. He has never shied away from the pressure that comes with those paycheques.


While he’s not a factor in the Art Ross Trophy race, and while he still needs to shoot more often and continue to whittle away at a minus-17 rating, most Flames fans have noticed exactly what Huska was indicating this past week as he gestured toward the ceiling — that ‘Huby’ has been trending upward.


If he could settle in as a point-per-game sort, that would be big news for a team that relies on a scoring-by-committee approach.


“For sure, there was frustration. But it’s not like you give up, you know?” Huberdeau told Postmedia, reflecting on his early-season struggles. “You’re not like, ‘Oh, it’s just not going to happen here.’ Obviously you think more about it and you want to help, and that’s why you get frustrated. It’s normal.

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

“I put a lot of heat on myself. I always want to be better. I want to be a better player. But I think you have to find the positive and then you go in the right direction, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

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