By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Gerard Gallant and Jonathan Huberdeau had a wildly successful coach-player relationship at the top level of junior hockey.
The Florida Panthers hope they will again in the NHL.
Gallant was hired Saturday to coach the Panthers, a move that reunites him with Huberdeau, a young forward who is considered one of the franchise’s biggest keys to rebuilding. Gallant replaces Peter Horachek, who had the interim title for most of last season after replacing Kevin Dineen. The Panthers told Horachek in late April that he would not be retained.
Weeks later, they settled on Gallant.
“He is an individual with tremendous character, integrity and a strong passion for the game and has experience as an NHL head coach,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a release distributed by the team.
“Gerard is an excellent teacher and motivator who possesses the leadership qualities and hockey knowledge that are necessary to lead our team.”
Gallant will be formally introduced by the Panthers on Monday.
He spent parts of three seasons as the head coach in Columbus before being fired in November 2006 and has been an NHL assistant with the Blue Jackets, the New York Islanders and most recently the Montreal Canadiens, for whom he worked the past two years.
He also has some time in the Panthers organization, having spent the 1999-2000 season as an assistant with the team’s AHL affiliate.
But one of his key selling points was likely his work with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He went 159-34-9 in three seasons there, with Huberdeau — the third overall pick in the 2011 draft — on the team for those years. Huberdeau had 88 goals and 124 assists in 165 games in juniors under Gallant.
Still, Gallant faces a big test with the Panthers, who finished 29th in the 30-team in NHL with 66 points this past season and have not won a playoff series since going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996.
Florida ranked next-to-last league-wide in goals scored, plus were the worst team in the NHL on special teams — scoring on 10 percent of its power plays and letting opponents score on 24 percent of man-up chances.
By season’s end, Florida was a staggering 27 points out of the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
Gallant becomes Florida’s eighth coach in 11 seasons. As a player, he spent parts of nine seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, then finished his NHL career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored 211 goals in 615 games.
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