First up in LBC's Season in Review series is one of the team's brightest prospects, Aleksander Barkov. The second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft played in just his second NHL season, but never really looked out of place and showed that he's going to be a key piece of the team in the future.
Barkov plays a very structured, positionally sound style of hockey that is simple and effective. His positioning and stick skills result in him creating a lot of turnovers, both in the neutral zone and in the defensive end.
When he isn't the one creating the turnover, he's in position to support his defensemen, helping the team break the puck out of the zone quickly.
His vision and awareness allow him to pass the puck up the ice quickly, and ensure that he gets his teammates involved in the play.
Barkov doesn't have breakaway speed, and passing the puck up the ice is his preferred way to move it through the neutral zone, but he does have the ability to skate the puck out and maintain control of it, while drawing defensemen to him and opening up space for his linemates.
In the offensive zone, Barkov is creative with the puck, and has quick feet and hands that allow him to separate from defenders and make passes to teammates who are in scoring areas. When playing with like minded players such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr, the ability of his line to cycle the puck down low and possess the puck is elite.
He can also use those hands to create goals for himself.
Perhaps the biggest criticism in Barkov's game is how hesitant he is to shoot. Though he was much more trigger-happy near the end of the season, in the beginning of the year he was reluctant to put the puck on net, and would often make unnecessary passes when he didn't trust himself to make the proper offensive play.
This would hurt the team because Barkov has a strong shot, and when he's in these scoring areas, he needs to unleash it. This goal against Winnipeg is a perfect example, and if the team can get Barkov doing this all season, the playoffs look much more reachable.
Barkov is a puck possession stud, and it's hard to find a metric by which he looks bad. He controls shot attempts well, creates more scoring chances for his team than his opponents, and out-performs his usage by a good margin. At this point, its clear that the young Finnish forward is one of the best puck possession forwards on the team. Factor in the fact that he's only 19-years-old, and the future looks bright for the team's number one center.
An interesting fact about Barkov's puck possession dominance is that he does it by defensively smothering his opponents, and not by creating absurd amounts of offense. He had the league's eighth lowest total of scoring chances against per 60 minutes, and the second lowest shot attempts against per 60 minutes on the Cats.
For a good visual representation of this, here's Barkov's HERO chart. Offensively, he's a middle of the pack second liner. Defensively, however, he's close to being a first liner, and at the age of 19, is only going to get better in both categories.
Though we haven't gotten around to our passing stats breakdown yet, when we get there, we will also see that Barkov's passing skills are some of the best on the team, behind maybe Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Jussi Jokinen. This is an area where the eye test and the numbers agree; Barkov likes to distribute the puck, and get his teammates involved. If you're playing on the same line as him, you had better be comfortable with the puck on your stick, because the young Finn will do his best to get you the rubber.
Speaking of the Eye Test, we noted above that Barkov needed to shoot the puck more. Given his end of the season performance, however, he may have already figured this out for himself. Here's his rolling 20 -game average of individual shot attempts, which spikes at the end of the season, when Huberdeau, Barkov, and Jagr dominated the opposition and put up great point totals.
When Dale Tallon drafted the big-bodied center out of the Finnish professional league back in 2013, it was known that the team would be getting a responsible defensive center with the potential to shut down the opposition's top lines while putting up 60 points in a season. Barkov's metrics show this, as he dominates the possession game by restricting the opposition's chances, and not by generating tons of chances on his own.
This doesn't mean that he doesn't have offensive ability, however, because he certainly does. Finding a way to maximize his potential, offensively and defensively, is an important puzzle for management to figure out before the puck drops on the 2015-2016 season.
The bottom line is that everyone should be excited about Barkov headed into next season. He's going to have another year of development under him and he's primed to unleash his offensive abilities upon the league. We already know that defensively, he's one of the best players on the Panthers. This year, hopefully we'll get to see some of his talent offensively, and it will push the team's first line from good to great.
(statistics taken from war-on-ice.com and ILWT.com. HERO chart taken from ownthepuck.com Possession metrics are score adjusted and at 5 on 5, while passing statistics are at 5 on 5)