Florida Panthers: It’s Time to Consider Aleksander Barkov as an NHL Superstar

OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 29: Florida Panthers Center Aleksander Barkov (16) prepares for a face-off during first period National Hockey League action between the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on March 29, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 29: Florida Panthers Center Aleksander Barkov (16) prepares for a face-off during first period National Hockey League action between the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on March 29, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers have been one of the quietest teams in the NHL, receiving little media attention or recognition. This season, that all will change, and one player will emerge from the shadows to the spotlight.

Aleksander Barkov is entering his sixth NHL season, which saw him produce career highs in points, assists, power play points, shorthanded goals, and faceoff percentage.

What the NHL still seems to forget is that Barkov is just 22-years-old, and will be 23 when the season begins. Barkov was just 1 point off a point-per-game average, but is still drawing less media attention than a lot of players below him.

Barkov is the perfect first line center for any hockey club in this day and age, meshed with talent across every skill set from defending to breakaways. There’s no real weakness to Barkov’s game, he’s faster than most players for his build, and definitely has the skill and passing to create for himself and his teammates.

He also has the skill set to take over a game by himself, able to anchor the defense while banging goals in on the other end. Aleksander’s technique is the best amongst the centers at the club, and likely the entire organization if it wasn’t for Evgeni Dadonov, who worked with Barkov basically all season.

His 25th tally against the Philadelphia Flyers shows his offensive ability in the open ice, and how he creates for himself without even using the puck. As Keith Yandle brings it out of the defensive zone, Barkov nonchalantly moves towards the bench, almost as if he’s going off for a change.

Once he fools Travis Konecny, who leaves the ice for a change, he turns on the afterburners and isolates himself with Johnny Oduya. He blows past the veteran defenseman, but still is stuck on his weaker side as Petr Mrazek holds down his short side.

As he fakes to the left, he gets Mrazek to lean to that direction, right before switching back over and snapping it past the former Detroit netminder short side, giving the Panthers the lead.

This is the problem a lot of teams face, Barkov doesn’t have a weaker side, as he’s developed his backhand to become a signature move of his. He scored many goals similar to this during the 2017-18 campaign against the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils, both at home.

This is the kind of move Sasha loves to perform in shootouts, where he has absolute quality against all opposition, but the scary part of transitioning it to the open game can give goalies nightmares.

Goals like these can show how an almost 23-year-old can really develop into one of the most skilled forwards in the league in no time, and was honored during his performances in the All-Star Shootout Streak during this season’s All-Star events from Tampa:

Barkov’s shootout percentage may be lower than expected, but his potential in the shootout has no limit. He’s pulled off multiple dekes and incredible stickhandling across his shootout career, and has to be one of the most entertaining players to watch in the shootout.

Recently, the NHL’s official Instagram page dedicated their 24-hour story to the top 9 shootout goals of the season, and Aleksander Barkov made the list twice, the only player to do so. His goals on that list came against the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets.

His most impressive shootout goal is one that I was fortunate enough to see in person, which was his backhand move against the New York Islanders back in November of 2015. This shootout was one for the record books, as the Panthers and Islanders had both gone a perfect four for four, with Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau all beating Jaroslav Halak. Barkov stepped up, attempting to make it 5 of 5:

What he does is ridiculous, and this is a consistent move. Barkov moves in from the right flank, his ‘weaker side,’ and begins his move parallel to the faceoff dots. He quickly shifts the puck to his left, looking as though he would be ready to wrist one into the corner of Halak’s stick side.

Immediately, Halak moves to his right for his body to be able to cover the shot, but Barkov uses his intelligence here and fakes it back to the left side. Halak is left sprawled all over the crease as Barkov reaches across the netminder to guide the puck into the right corner of the goal, leaving the BB&T Center on their feet and leaving Denis Potvin completely speechless.

The move was a perfect replica of Peter Forsberg’s shootout goal over Canada in the 1994 Winter Olympics. Forsberg brings the puck in from the right flank, dekes over to the left side, and reaches across the goalie with his stick to guide the puck into the opposite corner. The move became immortalized in hockey, and became known as the ‘Forsberg move.’ Barkov has done this move not just once, but multiple times.

While his flashiness has been portrayed, Barkov’s defense is something that took a noticeable improvement under Bob Boughner. Sasha’s +/- has been amongst the better ones in the NHL over the past three seasons, reaching 18, 13, and 9 respectively.

His presence on the penalty kill as a two-way forward was immense for the Cats this season. Sasha and the Panthers finished 3rd in shorthanded goals this year, with Barkov claiming 5 of the Panthers’ 10, beating out Evander Kane, Austin Watson, and William Karlsson for the top spot.

Not only was he in good position on the backcheck to cover the pass to the defenseman, but he uses the speed he has to turn defense into attack as effortlessly as anybody on the team. Once he breaks out, he’s able to snap past the defense and get a 2-on-1 going with Colton Sceviour.

He fakes a pass, escapes Will Butcher, and a nifty finish past Cory Schneider puts Florida ahead. His presence on both special teams gives the Panthers a big edge over a lot of teams.

Not to mention, Aleksander doesn’t score empty netters:

Aleksander Barkov isn’t the marketable dynamo that an Auston Matthews or Nathan MacKinnon is, and he may not have the on-ice intensity of a Tyler Seguin or Alex Ovechkin (Barkov rarely celebrates his goals), but he deserves to be on the same plane as all of these players.

Next: Should the Florida Panthers Hold onto James Reimer?

Barkov has proven himself against and amongst the best of the NHL, and at only 22, he can only go up from here.