Heading into the upcoming season, the Florida Panthers need another big year from forward Evgenii Dadonov.
Dadonov, who’s 30, is coming off his career-best year in 2018-19 after posting 70 points (28G & 42A) in 82 games. In his second go-round with the Florida Panthers, Dadonov has found his game at the NHL level.
Arriving via free agency for the 2017-18 campaign, Dadonov had a lot of expectations on his shoulders to deliver, which he managed to do. His 65 points (28G & 37A) in 74 games was a best for Dadonov at the time, providing Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau with a perfect replacement after the departure of Jaromir Jagr.
Of course, anyone’s numbers would skyrocket the moment you’re placed alongside Barkov and Huberdeau; however, it’s worth pointing out that Dadonov really meshed well with the two and provided them both with more space to play with.
Usually, teams gameplan around Barkov, and in quite a few cases, Huberdeau as well. Around the league, opponents know very well how lethal Barkov and Huberdeau are as a duo, which is why they plan accordingly.
With their focus primarily on the two, Dadonov is given the extra room to play without default. What teams forget to consider is that Dadonov knows how to score too, which is evident by his two 28-goal seasons in the previous two years.
As well, while Dadonov is given the extra time and space to decide what his next move will be, considering that his opponents have their hands tied with Barkov and Huberdeau usually, he’s equally as good with opening up space for his linemates to move into off the rush or even from the cycle.
When entering the zone, Dadonov is fantastic with keeping the puck on his stick while drawing players in to open up space for either one of Barkov or Huberdeau to move into.
His signature move of pulling his stick (with the puck) out wide really confuses his opponents as to where he’s going or what he’s thinking of doing. This allows Dadonov to buy time while waiting for support, and it also draws in defenders out of position. This often leads to space being created for Barkov and Huberdeau to skate into for a pass, which leads to a pathway to goal.
This simple move has created a few goals, but most importantly, it almost always creates a high-danger scoring chance for one of his linemates to step into.
Apart from his support and creative vision, Dadonov also has a knack for goal. Whether it be from the slot or in the crease, Dadonov seems to know where the puck is headed before his opponents can even anticipate the play.
He ghosts behind defenders so well, which usually leaves himself alone next to the opposing netminder. As you can see here in these next two plays, take a close look at how Dadonov separates himself from his opponents.
The rest of the plays from this clip show his blazing speed, which he loves to use on his opponents down the wing where they’re most vulnerable. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that his speed is his greatest quality.
At 5’11”, Dadonov is a little short in stature, but his speed and skill make up for what he lacks in size. Regardless, while he may be short, Dadonov has a fair bit of muscle on him, which allows him to win battles alongside the boards and keep up with the physical play.
Heading into his contract year, the Panthers need more of the same production from Dadonov this season. His presence, while underlooked at times, hasn’t gone unnoticed, and if the Panthers are going to make a push for the playoffs, then they’re going to need No. 63 firing on all cylinders at even strength and even on the power play.
While Barkov and Huberdeau often take over the show, we often forget about the contributions that Dadonov makes to this roster. He provides the perfect balance alongside No. 11 and 16 and feeds off both perfectly.
He can play as a playmaker, but he can also play as a scorer. In short, he’s a combo forward who can play in a number of different roles to accommodate to his linemates and their playing styles.
That’s what makes him the perfect side partner for both Barkov and Huberdeau, which is why when the line is together, they’re ranked as one of the best first-lines in the NHL by a number of different metrics and analysts.
For Dadonov, another big year could signal a pay raise as he hits the open market after this season. Of course, the Panthers would love to keep Dadonov for another three-four seasons, but if Dadonov really hits it off this year, trying to retain him could be a task too tall to ask.
Regardless, the focus is on this season as the Panthers look to push for the playoffs. If Florida is going to book their spot for the big dance, then they’re going to need more than just their young stars producing. That includes sidekicks like Evgenii Dadonov, who never seem to fail in the most crucial of moments. Expect another big year from the Russian winger.