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Barkov Listed as League's 4th-best Center by NHL Network

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

The folks over at NHL Network have a message for the rest of the hockey world.

It might be time to stop referring to Aleksander Barkov as underrated.

In their annual pre-season rankings, the network pegged the Florida Panthers superstar captain as the fourth-best center in the league, putting him ahead of players like Steven Stamkos, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Patrice Bergeron and John Tavares on their star-studded Top-20 list. 

"He does everything so well," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "I can't say he's underrated anymore. He's in our Top-5. He can't be underrated and be in our Top-5."

On the heels of the best offensive season of his career, Barkov reached new personal highs in goals (35), assists (61) and points (96) during the 2018-19 campaign. His point total also set a new franchise single-season record, besting the 94 points Pavel Bure accumulated in 1999-00. Over the final 26 games of the regular-season, Barkov led the NHL in scoring with 43 points.

Video: Aleksander Barkov cracks the top five on the list

"I think that the players respect his play a lot," Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said of Barkov toward the end of last season.

"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."

It's those "little things" that likely helped Barkov break into NHL Network's top-5. Winner of the 2019 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which is given annually to the player "adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability," Barkov took only four penalties last season -- including zero over his first 33 games - while also skating the second-most minutes among NHL forwards (1,833:01).

That discipline is made even more impressive when you consider what he does on defense.

A force in all three zones, Barkov finished fifth in voting for the 2019 Selke Trophy, which is handed out annually to the league's top-defensive forward. In addition to leading the Panthers and ranking second in the NHL in takeaways (100), he also won 53.7 percent of his faceoffs.

"He's one of the best defensive centermen in the league," Johnson said.

The best news?

At just 23 years old, Barkov's best is likely still ahead of him.

"No longer underrated, courtesy of our ranking system," Johnson said.

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