A 16-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau would have understood if Gerard Gallant had better things to do.
Huberdeau was new to the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Getting playing time, along with improving, were Huberdeau's objectives. Coach Gallant understood. He threw Huberdeau into penalty-kill and power-play situations if there was a wide enough margin.
"He could have said you're 16 and you won't play as much and have gave me the opportunity," said the Panthers left winger. "Throughout my career he did that with the young guys. He doesn't try to put too much on the players. He just tried to let us play."
Gallant's method developed Huberdeau into the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and one of the Panthers' biggest building blocks. The Panthers are hoping Gallant can work similar magic with an entire team after he was formally announced as the franchise's 13th coach Monday at the BB&T Center.
The former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach inherits a team that finished 29-45-8 and next-to-last in the Eastern Conference.
His teaching ability will be key. The Panthers have 13 players 24 or younger on their roster, including the 21-year-old Huberdeau, who attended the news conference.
"There's a lot of good building blocks here with this hockey team," Gallant said. "I know the season wasn't very good last season, but from the games we played against them and to see the way the team played, their play against us was outstanding."
An indelible mark was left by the Panthers on Gallant and the Eastern Conference finalists when they split the four-game season series.
General Manager Dale Tallon said it was important to get a coach by July 1, when the NHL free-agency period begins.
The Panthers, per capgeek.com, will have a little more than $30 million in cap space, potentially making them an aggressive suitor.
"We knew if we go into the free-agent market without a coach, it's hard to sell," Tallon said. "Guys are gonna ask you 'Who's going to be the coach?' and 'Why should I go there?' "
Tallon said "a lot of people" were interviewed over a two-month search before choosing Gallant.
Selecting a coach with prior NHL experience was important, given the past three Panthers coaches had none.
Finalists included Ron Wilson, former Stanley Cup winner Marc Crawford and Detroit assistant Tom Renney. Another Red Wings assistant, Bill Peters, was also a candidate but recently took the coaching job with the Carolina Hurricanes.
"To have him in place, the sooner, the better," Tallon said of Gallant. "We can now move onto other things we have to fix, focus on the draft right now and after that, focus on free agency and possibly trades."
The Panthers hold the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft, which begins Friday. They could keep the pick or shop it around.
Either way, it could continue what has already been a busy week for the team.
As for Gallant, 50, he coached the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2003-06 going 56-76-4-6 in that span. He was let go, and for three seasons coached the Sea Dogs in The Q, winning two league titles and in 2011, winning the Memorial Cup, a four-team tournament consisting of Canada's top three major junior teams plus a host site team.
"For me it is about experience," said Gallant, who scored 480 points in 615 games with the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning. "I think the more experience you get, the better coach you are going to be. With the experience, more often than not, you make the right decision. That's the biggest part, trying to make right decisions."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun