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Barkov sees draft as first step on road to NHL

by Connor Mellas

WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- Aleksander Barkov is looking forward to hearing his name called at the 2013 NHL Draft on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN), but in some ways, he's already looking past it.

"Of course it's a big thing for me, but that's not enough. I want to play on this team which picks me," Barkov said during a press event Friday outside the Sheraton Lincoln Harbor Hotel overlooking the Hudson River.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound center, NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked European skater for this year's draft, has made quite an impression so far.

"He is a strong, two-way centerman and his hockey sense is phenomenal because he's got the patience on the play, he sees the ice, he makes the good reads, he can deliver the passes, they're timely, they're on the tape, and he's got a decent finishing touch himself," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "But he's a very unselfish centerman, he likes to move the puck around and distribute the puck. It's his work ethic; he shows up, he comes to play every day. … Everybody wants high skills and low maintenance; this is a player that has the high skills and zero maintenance."

In 53 games with Tappara in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league, Barkov was second on his team with 48 points. He had 21 goals to help Tappara finish second in the league standings.

Barkov's season ended March 27 when he sustained a shoulder injury in a playoff game against HIFK. He underwent surgery in March and recently began training and skating with the hope of being healthy enough to play in the NHL during the 2013-14 season.

"I have only one big thing that I have to improve," Barkov said. "It's my skating. I need to be faster and more explosive. So that's the biggest point."

Leading into the draft, Barkov's name has been mentioned just below Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin as the best players available, but he considers himself to be on the same level as the top three North American skaters.

"We are different kinds of players," Barkov said. "For example, MacKinnon is faster than me and Drouin is maybe more skilled. But everyone has their own best attributes, so I don't know -- maybe I am a big forward."

Asked what he considers his biggest strengths, Barkov said, "My two-way game and my play-making skills."

Although Barkov has met with "a couple of teams," he won't be certain of his future until Sunday. He said he's enjoyed the interview process.

"Yeah, free dinners. Of course it's good," he said with a laugh.

One person quite familiar with the game of hockey believes Barkov is ready for the NHL: his father.

Alexander Barkov spent 22 seasons playing professionally in Russia, Italy and Finland, and said he knows his son has the skill set and focus to succeed.

"It's a pleasure to be working with him because he's so dedicated for training and making himself a better hockey player, and all those kinds of things," Alexander Barkov said. "I'm so happy."

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