On June 30, 2013 it was widely speculated that if the consensus number one prospect in the 2013 NHL Draft, defenseman Seth Jones, would fall to the Florida Panthers at No. 2, it would be a no-brainer for GM Dale Tallon to add the best defensive prospect to come along in years to his stable of already highly-touted young guns, including the 2012-13 Calder Trophy winner, Jonathan Huberdeau. With the utmost confidence, Tallon approached the podium and selected Finnish Center, Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov, changing the landscape of the draft and the Florida prospect pool.
At the time of the draft, Barkov was the youngest player available for selection. At just 17-years old and coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, Europe’s highest ranked prospect had already played two seasons in the Finnish Elite League. Barkov finished his campaign in Finland with a combined 64 points (28-36-64) in a total of 85 regular season games. Analysts and scouts alike gushed over Barkov’s ability to slow down the pace of the game and seamlessly find his teammates on the ice but were still skeptical over whether or not he should have been chosen over Jones.
Despite being held out of Florida’s annual rookie tournament in Coral Springs, FL due to his healing shoulder, Barkov had a strong training camp and earned his spot on the Florida roster. The Tampere, Finland native now 18-years old was set to make his debut in the team’s first game of the season against the Dallas Stars. Barkov was given the opportunity to play top-six minutes and was part of the power play unit as well. He played a smart and steady game, a style personified in his first NHL goal. Barkov found a loose puck in front of the Dallas net, on his backhand and nonchalantly spun it to his forehand, sliding it past Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, tying the game and turning the momentum in Florida’s favor. The goal was pivotal not only for Florida in their 4-2 victory, but by putting Barkov in the history books by being the youngest player to score an NHL goal in 71 years, surpassing a goal scored by Jackie Schmidt of the Boston Bruins on Nov. 2, 1942.
Since his first game of the season, Barkov has yet to sit in the penalty box and has looked good in every game. His best game being Florida’s home opening 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Barkov had his first multi-point game of his career, recording three points (1-2-3) including the game-winning goal, his first career power play goal.
Slow and steady is the name of the game for Barkov, and it’s been working quite well. He sits tied with linemate and new Panther, Brad Boyes for second on Florida in points with five points (2-3-5) in six games played. Among all rookies Barkov is tied for third in points and second in assists. Barkov’s quiet and shy demeanor make him seem unsure and out of place, but make no mistake, this kid is a competitor. The Finnish youngster plays with poise far beyond his years and controls the puck with ease. His 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame helps him not only protect the puck, but win faceoffs as well. Rookies can be a liability at the center position and in the faceoff circle, Barkov has averaged a 44.6 faceoff percentage so far this season placing him third among rookies. Barkov won’t dazzle you with fancy dekes and blinding speed; he plays a more calculating, conservative style to make up for his lack of wheels, but where he will burn teams is his vision and ability to read plays. Barkov’s strong hockey IQ, two-way play and confidence with the puck are quickly showing that this player is someone who will be in the NHL for a long time to come and has already become a key player for an offensively starved Florida team.
Barkov will face Jones (selected No.4 overall by the Nashville Predators) tonight in the first of many meetings in their young careers.