What were you doing when you were 18-years-old? I was alternately face-down in a textbook somewhere in the library or face-down in a bathroom somewhere in Baltimore. One place I most certainly was not, was playing in the NHL. At 20? still no NHL. That is not a particularly unique admission, very few have the privilege of playing in the NHL let alone as a teenager.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are two such players whose prodigious skills are so off the charts that they can compete in the world’s best hockey league before they can even legally purchase a drink in the US. The duo is off to a hot start this season and their promising future is a source of hope for a Panther fan base that has had so little to get excited about over the last decade.
Jonathan Huberdeau, 20, was the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Only 18 when he was drafted, the Panthers thought his slight 6’1″ frame would not hold up in the rough and tumble NHL so they sent him back to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL for the 2011-12 season to work on his game and add some bulk.
Huberdeau made his NHL debut in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He scored one goal and two assists in that debut against the Carolina Hurricanes and did not look back. He finished the season with 14 goals and 17 assists and was named the NHL Rookie of the Year. In the first five games of the 2013-14 season, Huberdeau has three points, two goals and one assist.
Aleksander Barkov, 18, was drafted by the Panthers 3rd overall in this years NHL draft. Only 17 at the time of the draft, he became the youngest player (18 years, 31 days) to score an NHL goal in the last 70 years when he scored in the Panthers debut against the Dallas Stars. He currently is second on the Panthers with five points in five games (2-3-5).
Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are the front line of a group of Panthers prospects that are expected to turn the franchises fortunes around over the next few years. In Friday night’s 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Huberdeau and Barkov scored power play goals just 1:06 apart to give the team a 4-2 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the game. It was the first game where both players each scored and there will be many such games in the future as both players gradually increase their roles in the team’s offense.
Just five games into his NHL career, Barkov is already drawing rave reviews from his teammates,
“All the skill he has is unbelievable,” said goalie Jacob Markstrom “Sometimes it’s not that fun for me in practice when he lights me up. I guess you’ve got to take that it’s a good thing he’s on my team.”
The two youngsters have a blindingly bright future but they have proved this season that the future may not be so far off.