The Florida Panthers have been a highly inconsistent team this season. But a few bright spots appeared. Last summer, the Panthers promoted their young leader Aleksander Barkov to be the team´s captain. This move has paid dividends for both the club and player. There is a simple reason for this — Barkov is having an outstanding season with Florida and is clearly one of the most underappreciated players in the NHL.
Aleksander Barkov is the Right Captain for the Florida Panthers
Last season was troubling for the Panthers. After struggling from the beginning of the year, they found their stride late but could not make it through and finished just behind the play-off line in the Eastern Conference with 96 points. They didn’t decide to make a big splash in the summer, but still, the Panthers made one big change. Derek MacKenzie as the captain was kind of a missed shot, so they promoted Aleksander Barkov to team’s captaincy.
The Panthers will probably miss the playoffs again as they are eight points out of the eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but at least they made a few upgrades on their sinking ship. A new captain can really lead them to promised lands in the future. When the Panthers won the Atlantic Division in 2016, everything seemed very bright for them. However, the young team crashed in the first round of the playoffs against the New York Islanders and have never made them since.
In that 2015-2016 season, young Barkov had 59 points in 66 games and three points in six playoff games. Those were solid numbers, but not good enough to be the main star of the team. Just two years later, everything has changed rapidly and now Barkov leads his club.
Barkov – Skill, Size and High Hockey IQ
Aleksander Barkov has worked himself out to be one of the smartest players in the NHL. He is as good as you can get. Barkov is just 23 years old and the Finnish center has collected 332 points in 403 career games. Barkov can easily shoot the puck and his passes are even better. He is also very creative as you can see.
As of now, Barkov is on a six-game point-streak as he recorded 15 points in those six past games. That features an incredible five-assist game last week against the Minnesota Wild. From the points perspective, this is the career year for the 23-year-old forward as he has gathered 83 points in 72 games. During the present season, Barkov has CF% at 50,5, which isn´t the best out there, but that just reflects how bad his team has been defensive. The Panthers have allowed 242 goals on the year and there are just four teams worse than Florida in that category.
Certainly, Barkov had nothing to see with that. Over his career, his CF% is at 51,8. Taking a further look on Barkov’s stats, he is -9 in the season overall. But on the even strength, he is +1. You are not going to find a player on the Panthers roster who logs that amount of the time on the ice and has positive +/- stat other than defenceman Aaron Ekblad—who is +6 at even strength. To sum this up, Barkov is great defensively and he doesn’t demonstrate it just with stats.
One of the Best Defensive Forwards in NHL
Statistically speaking, Barkov is more than a solid two-way player. Sometimes a simple eye test is way more important than that. Barkov has been making tremendous defensive plays. His reading of the plays is great and the Finnish center has tremendous ability to steal the puck and help his team. The other comparisons in the NHL are Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews. This season, it’s more than clear that a battle for Selke Trophy is going to end up between Patrice Bergeron and Aleksander Barkov.
Bergeron: midseason Selke winner, per PHWA. pic.twitter.com/YZfy4SaPoB
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) 24. januára 2019
So far, as per mid-seasons award from PHWA, the Boston Bruins center has had an upper-hand. Last season, Barkov finished fourth in the Selke Trophy race. He has never won that award but it seems like he is awfully close. Later in June, he is not projected to finish worse than second on the Selke Trophy voting lists.
In addition to that, Barkov is the leading candidate to claim the Lady Byng Trophy. He has been second in that race last year. Barkov has received a hooking penalty on Saturday in a game against the Los Angeles Kings and the Kings Dustin Brown scored on that consequent power play. Nothing to be shocked about, as that was just third minor penalty for Barkov in the game number 71 in the season for him. Whether it’s Sean Monahan, Jared Spurgeon or Morgan Rielly, it’s unlikely that anybody is going to steal the Lady Byng Trophy from Barkov later in June.
Barkov and “The Play” To Admire
Aleksander Barkov made a play in his last game that was left a bit unnoticed. This is something pretty common with Barkov because he makes those plays pretty regularly. Another can argue, that the Panthers lost that game and their captain was not going to take the praise for a good hockey play in a loss. But maybe it’s all about how much Barkov is underappreciated in around the NHL.
In that game in Anaheim on Sunday, late in the first period when the Ducks were ahead on the scoreboard, Corey Perry handled the puck to Jakob Silfverberg. The Swedish winger rifled one in on Sam Montembeault, who appeared to make the stop, but the puck leaked through him. Elite goalscorer in Corey Perry was there to put home the rebound for en easy tap-in.
There was not an easy tap-in goal for Corey Perry as Barkov appeared to the rescue. He was able to catch Perry, lift his stick cleanly and fire the puck out of the danger just like that in one motion. That was a tremendeous play by Barkov. Those types of plays win you Selke Trophies. Patrice Bergeron, the four-time Selke winner, knows it pretty well.
The Gem of the Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov was selected as the second overall player taken in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. His first season in the NHL was tough. The 18-year-old forward had collected just 24 points in 54 games, but it was a worthy teaching lesson for him.
The Panthers have Barkov signed until the 2021-2022 season with a salary cap hit of $5.9 million per season. That is a huge bargain as he is the most productive player on the Panthers roster. Second behind him with 78 points is Jonathan Huberdeau and the fourth on that list is Evgenii Dadonov with 58 points. All of these players play together on the top offensive line.
Mike Hoffman, the third most productive Florida’s player, was left from that listing intentionally, because he is leading the second line. But behind that, nobody has been that productive. As stated higher, the Panthers are struggling mainly on their defence. That’s the area where Barkov can prove to be the great leader. But it seems that not many players have followed his example during the present campaign.
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