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2018-19 Season Rewind: Aleksander Barkov

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2018-19 Season Rewind: Barkov

2018-19 Season Rewind: Aleksander Barkov

All of Aleksander Barkov goals from the 2018-19 season

  • 07:25 •

Aleksander Barkov made the giant leap from star to superstar this season.

A dominant force in all three zones, the 23-year-old center succeeded in setting new career highs in both goals (35) and assists (61), while also bringing Selke Trophy-worthy defense to every second of the career-high 22:21 he averaged per night during his first 82-game season.

One of just four Panthers to ever reach the 90-point plateau, Barkov's 96 points were not only the 10th-most in the NHL this past season, but also set a new franchise record, surpassing the previous single-season mark of 94 set by hockey Hall of Famer Pavel Bure all the way back in 1999-00.

So although externally he's still considered "underrated," his peers know he's an absolute stud.

"I think that the players respect his play a lot," Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said of Barkov's reputation around the league. "It's hard not to with the way he plays and with the year that he's been having. I think the offensive side of the game has really taken off. But he also always plays so well defensively and does all of the little things that don't quite get noticed."

Already in the midst of a solid season, Barkov unlocked a whole new level of his game during the second half. From Feb. 17 until the end of the season, he led the NHL in scoring with 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) -- more than both Connor McDavid (33) and Sidney Crosby (31).

When asked about his late-season uptick in production, Barkov pointed to the return of second-line center Vincent Trocheck, who missed 27 games after fracturing his right ankle in November. With Trocheck out of the lineup, Barkov averaged a team-leading 23:35 of ice time per game.

Upon Trocheck's return in mid-January, Barkov's minutes dipped down to an average of 21:22.

"I think I noticed a little change a couple of months ago, especially when Troch came back, I was a little fresher on the ice," Barkov said. "I didn't have to play those big minutes. I think I was playing three or four minutes less than I played before that.

"Of course, I got more energy to use on the ice and maybe go on the offensive zone one more time or try to defend with fresh legs. I always try to work as hard as I can to be a better player the next day and I'm going to continue to do that until I'm done."

As one of hockey's best two-way forwards, Barkov's exceptional work on the defensive side of the puck certainly didn't suffer as his output on offense began to broaden. Leading the team and ranking second in the NHL in takeaways (100), he also won a career-high 53.7 percent of his faceoffs.

That work in the faceoff circle was especially noticeable on the top unit of Florida's second-ranked power play, where he won a team-high 242 draws in the offensive zone. Those huge faceoff wins, by Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle's estimation, bought the team an average of 15-20 invaluable extra seconds on attack during each man advantage throughout the season.

"When you win the faceoff you can set up your plays, you can get into your spots," said Yandle, who finished this past season with a franchise-record 39 power-play points. "Obviously Barky does an amazing job everywhere on the ice, but especially in the faceoff circle… He can win faceoffs whether they're on his strong hand or his off-side. He does a great job of that."

Named the 10th captain in franchise history in September, Barkov said he also grew as a leader while weathering the grind of an up-and-down season. And although the weight of the "C" on his chest admittedly felt heavier at certain times, he succeeded in setting a high bar for teammates.

"At the beginning, I was kind of excited and a little bit too nervous like, 'What should I do? Should I be yelling all the time or what?" Barkov said of feeling out his captaincy. "But then I just realized that I just had to be myself and try to lead by example.

"Of course, when there is a place for something to be said, I'll say something. Troch and Yands and all the other leaders in the room, they helped me a lot. I just tried to be myself like I was before, but I grew up a lot this year."

Looking ahead, Barkov believes that the hiring of new head coach Joel Quenneville, who owns the second-most wins in NHL history (890) and led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups, will help both the team and his own game reach new heights during the 2019-20 season.

"When he was coaching in Chicago, there were a lot of good players like [Patrick] Kane, [Jonathan] Toews and a lot of other guys," Barkov said. "What he did with them is pretty unreal. They won a couple Cups and they had a lot of really good leaders in the locker room. We're looking forward to work with him."

COOL STAT

A two-time finalist, Barkov could finally bring home the Lady Byng this season.

As previously mentioned, Barkov ranked NHL with 100 takeaways. But what makes that statistic even more impressive is the fact that he was able to pull off such thievery while committing just four minor penalties - an incredible testament to his crafty stickwork and unmatched discipline.

By definition, the Lady Byng is awarded annually to "the player voted to best combine sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability." Perfectly describes Barkov, doesn't it?

And while he rarely took any penalties, Barkov did succeed at sending others to the box. Tied for fifth in the NHL with 34 penalties drawn, his plus-30 penalty differential led the entire league.

BEST GAME

While it's hard to ignore his franchise-record five assist performance against the Minnesota Wild on March 8, Barkov's most-dominant game came against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15, when he registered the first hat trick of his career to secure a 4-3 overtime win at BB&T Center.

With two goals already in his back pocket, Barkov potted the winner 3:24 into the extra frame. 

Video: TOR@FLA: Barkov finishes first NHL hatty in overtime

"I still can't believe it," Barkov said of his hat trick after the game. "It's been like 10 years since my last hat trick and I kind of forgot how it feels. Maybe I will realize later what happened."

GOAL OF THE YEAR

Was this ever in question?

Named the "Goal of the Year" by NHL Network, Barkov broke through hockey's bubble and reached the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter's Top-10 plays of the night when he shrugged off a defender to score a slick between-the-legs goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 17. 

Video: MTL@FLA: Barkov goes between the legs for second goal

"Of course I'm happy with the way I scored," said Barkov, who led the Panthers with four points and registered his second-career hat trick in the win. "I've always dreamed about a score like that, and it happened last night. Now, I'm going to try and create something new."

For a breakdown and reactions to the goal, click HERE.

 

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