NHL’s Most Underrated: Aleksander Barkov

In July of 2016 I was at a charity golf tournament in Saskatoon. It was 2 months before the World Cup and 4 of Canada’s coaches were in attendance; Mike Babcock, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville, and Claude Julien….. not bad. To interact with the people in attendance, the coaches went from table to table and you could ask them any question you wanted. Mike Babcock came to the table I was at and someone asked him about Auston Matthews (who the Leafs drafted a month earlier). Babcock kind of gave the classic “he’s a great player, works hard” all the stuff you’d expect to hear. Babcock then proceeded to say who he thought the next 3 best centres in the NHL were. Obviously, Connor McDavid was #1 on the list but then he said Matthews and Aleksander Barkov were tied for 2nd.

I had heard of Barkov before, but he plays in a bottom 5 market in the league in Florida. So like anyone, my viewings of Barkov were limited. The 2013 draft had lots of connection to Saskatoon, 3 of the top 4 picks played in the Memorial Cup 2 months before. 1 was Nathan Mackinnon, 3 was Jonathan Drouin, 4 was Seth Jones. Those 3 guys played each other in the Memorial Cup final, a game I attended. Barkov was the #2 pick and was a relative unknown in North America at the time, that’s definitely changed now.

Before I get into the factual evidence of why I think Barkov is a top player in the league. I can only imagine the hype he would be getting if he played in Montreal or Toronto. He would be a God in those cities. Don’t believe me? Search him on YouTube, watch the types of goals he scores and think how many other players could do that. Or go to @heybarber on Instagram and see how many times he posts a move Barkov does in a game. His goal vs Vancouver in February of this year is just one example of how good he is.

Barkov’s breakout year came in 2015-16 when he played on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaormir Jagr, he had 59 points in 66 games and led the Panthers to the playoffs. Barkov finished 2nd in Lady Byng voting and 6th in Selke voting. Injuries have always derailed Barkov and he never played more than 71 games in a season….. until this year.

In 2017-18 the Panthers took a few months to get used to their new Head Coach, Bob Boughner and ended up missing the playoffs by a point. As for their best player? 78 points in 79 games, averaged 22:04 time on ice per game (only behind Anze Kopitar’s 22:05), led the league in shorthanded goals with 5 and finished 8th in even strength assists with 39, and only 2 less than Claude Giroux’s 41 which had him in 2nd place. 82 takeaways and 54% in the faceoff circle. Finished 4th in Selke voting (11 1st place votes) and 3rd in Lady Byng voting (10 1st place votes)

I got to see Barkov play in Calgary this year and was amazed at the morning skate. I can honestly say he is the most skilled player I’ve ever seen. 6’3 215 pounds, a very long reach and extremely quick hands. In Calgary’s pre-game interviews, their Coach Glenn Gulutzan was raving about Barkov and said they thought he was one of the best players in the league. That night, Barkov had 3 points and was a +2 while the Panthers won 6-3.

Everyone looks at points when determining how good a player is. But there is something to be said about Barkov, most teams and their top scorers are shying away from going against the other team’s top lines. While Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar are the ‘poster boys’ for Selke consideration, there’s Barkov who is leading the new wave of those players. His coach has said that if Barkov wanted to be all offense and no defense, he’d be a top scorer in the league. But it says something about his ability to be a top 3 defensive centre, and still put up 80 points. Remember this article because Barkov could be a top 10 centremen in the league to everyone, not just me.

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