Aleksander Barkov will return to the lineup for the Florida Panthers when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at BB&T Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
"I am just happy to be back on the ice with the team," Barkov told The Athletic on Thursday. "It was weird (not playing), but obviously it is something I needed to take care of and come back when I felt good. ... I hate to watch games, but I have to take advantage, learn from that different perspective and come back better than before."
The center, who missed three games because of a lower-body injury, has 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 50 games this season.
"It is everything. He is a key guy, our captain, our leader, and he does everything for us," Florida coach Joel Quenneville said Friday. "You use him in all situations, and we have missed him in the past three games or so. He can help us in every way."
The Panthers, who went 1-1-1 without Barkov, including a 7-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division.
"Getting Barkov back is a given. He is unbelievable when he is in the lineup and gives us a different look in every aspect and in every zone," Florida defenseman Mark Pysyk said. "His defensive play is overlooked. He is calming, makes everyone feel confident. He has been a huge loss for us, and it will be huge to have him back."