Florida Panthers: Evgeni Dadonov is somehow more underrated than Barkov

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Evgenii Dadonov
EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Evgenii Dadonov /

When looking at the Florida Panthers mini-resurgence, you can look to point-per-game seasons from Huberdeau, Barkov and Trocheck as reasons why the team suddenly has offensive punch. You can look to wonderful goaltending for a part of the uptick too. But one player seemingly doesn’t get the credit he deserves for reviving the fortunes of Florida’s top line: Evgeni Dadonov.

This offseason, he wasn’t even the flashiest Russian to come over from the KHL. His signing barely moved the needle, even for a Panthers team that for salary dump reasons needed to find some cheaper help on the top line. As it turns out, the player that arrived may well have been better than the player let go of.

On the surface, the numbers don’t appear to bare that out. Through 49 games, Dadonov has 37 points, whereas Reilly Smith, the player I’ve tried to subtlety refer to, has 51 through 59. The Panthers have played fewer games than the Golden Knights, and Dadonov also missed a chunk of time through injury, but those numbers on the surface don’t tell the full story.

According to Corsica Hockey as of this writing, Dadonov currently has a 54.04 CF%, a Rel CF% of 6.46% and P1/60 (primary points per 60, goals and primary assists) of 1.70. Smith’s CF% is 54.49, his Rel CF% is 3.97 and his P1/60 is 1.65. Those numbers are all essentially comparable with Dadonov having played 10 fewer games than Smith. Smith also has 29 even strength points, while Dadonov has 25. But the kicker is zone starts, particularly for Dadonov. His zone start rate is 44.52%, meaning he starts far more often in the defensive than offensive zone.

Smith has a 51.57% zone start rating, meaning slightly more often than not, he starts in the offensive zone. Dadonov’s numbers are therefore not just comparable, but slightly better considering the quality of opposition he plays and where he often starts on the ice.

If you wanted to add luck into the mix, Dadonov’s PDO is 98.99, whereas Smith’s is 103.36, indicating that Smith personally may be a little bit lucky this year, while Dadonov is not that lucky at all. Dadonov’s ixGF (individual expected goals for, don’t ask me how that’s calculated) is 10.16, and Smith’s is 7.6, to boot.

So what do all those numbers mean in plain English? They mean that in spite of what narratives may say about the Panthers decision to trade Reilly Smith to Vegas, ostensibly for salary relief reasons, they may have found a better first line replacement in Dadonov.

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He is making $1 million less in AAV, his contract is two years shorter, and in many ways he is having a better season despite playing 10 fewer games and playing for a worse team. And because of the ubiquity of said narratives, it seems that even Panthers fans aren’t appreciating just how solid a season Dadonov is having.

His signing wasn’t exactly a risk since Dale Tallon knew pretty much what he was getting when he convinced Dadonov to come back from the KHL, and the familiarity with the organization certainly helped. It also doesn’t hurt to play with the league’s most criminally underrated center every night in Sasha Barkov.

When it comes to player personnel decisions, it’s rare to make a trade-off in players where not only does a team save money, both hard and on the cap, but get perhaps a better player in exchange. Though it may take some digging to realize, the Panthers have certainly done this with bringing in Dadonov, and his impact on this team can’t be understated. He is a bona fide top six, maybe top line winger in this league, but never gets the credit as such, even from Panthers fans and observers.

Compared to most top line wingers, he’s performing at a very solid clip and making less money, especially compared to Smith, who is a very good player in his own right. But when it comes to analyzing his success in Vegas, it’s necessary to look at “who took what” would have been his role in Florida and say that the Panthers aren’t exactly reeling with him gone, is to say nothing of what we’d be talking about if Vegas played like an actual expansion team.

Dadonov’s season has certainly flown under the radar, which is unfortunate for a player that deserves credit for giving the Panthers a top line winger they have so desperately craved for years.

Next: Looking at Harri Sateri’s time with the Florida Panthers

And the kicker: they spent less money and cap to do it!