Just posing that question seems silly, especially to Florida Panthers’ fans. But with a litany of stories and pieces now coming out about how Barkov is seemingly underappreciated and underrated, it might actually be worth asking: do we appreciate how good Aleksander Barkov is enough?
Anonymous players around the league, particularly from the Eastern conference, certainly seem to think so. Some in the Canadian media are also coming around to the idea. Still, the idea that one of the league’s premier talents is still underappreciated through his fifth NHL season just doesn’t sit right.
It’s not like he’s a seventh round super gem that the entire league passed over multiple times, he was the second overall pick in 2013 and easily could have (and maybe should have) gone first overall.
But combine playing in Florida for largely bad teams and Barkov not exactly being the flashiest or loudest player, shootouts the exception, it would take some effort for casual hockey fans to have watched Barkov’s exploits over and over again as Panthers fans have, especially when there hasn’t been much else to latch on to in many years of misery.
This whole idea of Barkov being underappreciated might start with the story of how and why he was drafted. Heading into the 13-14 season, Dale Tallon knew he had next to no cap space to find players to make a lackluster team better, so the only way to change his teams fortunes was to draft someone who’d make an immediate impact, and Barkov did on a team nowhere near as good as what Jones and MacKinnon were privileged to skate on.
Jones and Jonathan Drouin no longer play for the teams that drafted them, and MacKinnon’s career has faced largely the same trajectory that Barkov’s has.
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But even with all of that, Barkov, who won’t turn 23 until September, is as dominant a center as the Panthers have ever had. This comes as he’s playing for his fifth different coach and being asked to play an inhuman amount of minutes, the most for any NHL forward, and yet will still end up blowing away his personal point and goal total bests barring injury.
He’s been rightfully rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game, where hopefully more people around the sport will see what Panthers fans have seen since they drafted Barkov at only age 17.
He has 40 points in 42 games this season, with his previous career high being 59. For the first time since he came into the league (fingers crossed), he’s avoided any major injuries for an extended period of time.
His Rel CF% (Corsi relative to competition) is 6.02%, which is his best for any season by a fair margin (when the Panthers made the playoffs, it was -0.85%). It’s second best on the team next to his line mate Jonathan Huberdeau, and made even more impressive considering all of the minutes he plays on special teams.
But at long last, it seems that others are noticing how good he is, even if it comes with the somewhat backhanded compliment of being “underrated”:
"“I think there’s definitely a sense out there that he’s definitely underrated,” Boughner told Michael Traikos of the National Post. “Obviously, it’s not a traditional hockey market where we are. Barky sort of gets lost in that a little. I think that the better we do as a team and the further we go in the playoffs … ”Metropolitan Division forward: Panthers center Aleksander Barkov. “Guys in the smaller market sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve. Barkov — he’s crazy. He’s so good. He’s so skilled.”Pacific Division defenseman: Barkov. “He’s like really, really good, but he plays in Florida, so he gets no credit.”Central Division forward: Barkov. “He’s a skill guy, but he also is a guy that can outmuscle you. He’s like Anze Kopitar out there. I think he’d blow up if he was playing for a different market.”Metropolitan Division forward: Barkov. “Have you seen some of his shootout moves? I actually saw this video, I think I saw it on Twitter or Instagram or something, just putting together some highlights from him in the shootout. It’s absurd.”"
At almost every Panthers’ games, there may be more Barkov jerseys than any other player, and for good reason. Every team would kill to have a center this good at both ends of the ice, and the Panthers have one who may just be entering the prime of his career, and has four more years left at a AAV of $5.9M.
It’s a shame that he’s spent most of his Panthers career dragging along substandard rosters with substandard and incompetent coaches to his level, but as his profile rises, so to will that of his team.
So do we appreciate Aleksander Barkov and all of his amazing talents enough? It’s certainly noticeable when he doesn’t play, and there’s almost always a magical moment in a shootout when he has the puck on his stick. And while in the past there may have been some trepidation about Barkov’s growth, there can’t be any doubt about it now.
A little recognition from outside of South Florida can’t hurt, and a trip to the All-Star game certainly won’t either. And if this discussion has done anything, it has engendered more love for a player that has the chance to singlehandedly change the future of a franchise who hasn’t had a player like him since a certain Pavel Bure.
Perhaps that is what Panthers fans don’t appreciate enough about Aleksander Barkov, because it seems that until recently, they were the only ones who knew how great he truly is.