Having exhausted a long list of talented players throughout the Florida Panthers’ organization, it’s no surprise who rounds out the top of LBC’s 25U25 list.
#16: Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov
Position: Center (shoots Left)
Team: Florida Panthers
Drafted in 2013, 1st Round (2nd Overall)
After a lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, the Panthers found themselves as the actual cellar-dwellers of the NHL, sitting in a dead-last 30th place, posting 36 points in 48 games. That Florida team scored the 2nd fewest goals in the NHL, while allowing the most goals allowed in the entire league - typically not a good recipe for success.
With clear needs across the lineup, the Panthers were looking forward to the opportunity to select any of the handful of top-tier prospects available in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft; however, that full flexibility of choice was not to be, as they Panthers lost out, in Panther-like fashion, in the draft lottery for the 1st overall pick. Instead, they settled for 2nd overall, while the Colorado Avalanche was rewarded with the top pick.
The 2013 draft sported a trio of “can’t-miss” prospects that each and every draft ranking had slotted in the top-3: Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, and Jonathan Drouin. MacKinnon being considered a franchise talent, most expected him to go first overall regardless of a team’s need. That indeed happened, and the Panthers were left to choose between Seth Jones, one of the highest rated defenseman to come out of the draft in years and built like a NHLer, and Jonathan Drouin, the shifty and speedy playmaker tabbed to be the next Patrick Kane.
Instead, the Panthers made a statement by picking Aleksander Barkov, a Finnish centerman known for his responsible two-way play and vision with the puck. Barkov, unlike the “can’t-miss trio”, was always rated between pick 4-6. Though everyone believed Barkov was an NHL talent and would succeed in the league, no rankings had his upside at a point high enough to warrant a top-3 pick.
In his draft year, Barkov put up 48 points in 53 games playing for Tappara in the top Finnish professional circuit, Liiga. Playing against grown men, Barkov already displayed a keen ability to play smart while maintaining a high rate of production. Few understood how that game would translate to the NHL level, but the Panthers were high enough to take Aleksander 2nd overall.
Barkov ended up making the Panthers’ roster right out of training camp for the 2013-2014 season. His rookie and sophomore seasons allowed him to flash moments of pure brilliance. Mostly, though, Barkov worked on improving some of the weaknesses in his game - particularly his speed and agility, plus his assertiveness with the puck on his stick. Those first couple of years were spent on pretty poor Panthers teams, yet he finished only a -7 after two professional campaigns. Through his work to improve play and adjust to the NHL, Barkov still remained incredibly consistent in his defensive work ethic and positioning.
Aleksander’s third and fourth NHL seasons saw him take the next step offensively, while becoming the leader of the offense and Florida’s first line center. Though he experienced a few injuries, Barkov’s play began to gain some notoriety. The league was put on notice.
Entering this past season, Barkov’s age-22 season, expectations were higher than ever, and he delivered. Putting up basically a point per game (27G/51A in 79 games), Barkov played a full season while putting up elite offensive numbers and regularly facing off against opponents’ toughest competition.
The emergence and continued development of Barkov’s game has Panthers’ brass and fans alike drooling. Having quietly gone about his business, Barkov is unfortunately no longer the best kept secret in the league. Based off of last season’s performance and an improved offensive roster, it’s no far-fetched thought to think that Sasha could post 30 goals and 60 assists - maybe more.
The fact of the matter is that Aleksander Barkov is only 23-years-old and signed to one of the best contracts in the league. He’s probably the best player the Panthers have had in their history when factoring in the completeness of his game, and he still has another 5-7 years of improvement left in him.
The Florida Panthers 2018-2019 season will go as Meidän Kapteeni goes, and you can’t truly say that about any other player on the team. For that reason, though certainly not that reason alone, Aleksander Barkov sits atop the Florida Panthers Top 25 Under 25 players. And he ain’t getting surpassed by anybody until he ages out of contention.
What did you think of our list overall? Was it missing anyone you think should have made the cut? Any egregiously misjudged rankings of players in your humble opinions?
Thanks for tuning in throughout the summer. Preseason is here, which means opening night is just a few short weeks away. Happy hockey, everyone!
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