This is the type of leadership Aleksander Barkov will bring to the Florida Panthers.
At 23, Barkov became the youngest player to ever don the "C" in South Florida when he was introduced as the Panthers newest captain on Monday, assuming the role from veteran Derek MacKenzie. The 10th captain in the franchise's 25-year history, Barkov isn't always the loudest voice in the room, but it is one of the most respected. When he talks, everyone is listening.
"It's something we've thought about for a while," coach Bob Boughner said. "We thought long and hard about it. It was the right thing to do. Barky has matured into not just a great hockey player, but a great leader on this team. Sometimes he doesn't get recognition for that because he's a quiet guy and just goes about his way. But the way he plays on the ice, what he brings to the organization, what he means to the guys in the dressing room, I think it was the right move at the right time. It's time for the core group of guys to take this team over."
The second-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Barkov leads the Panthers in both goals (100) and assists (249) since his debut in 2013-14. An All-Star and Lady Byng finalist, the Tampere, Finland native is also coming off the best season of his career, posting 78 points in 79 games.
"We're very fortunate," general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's been that way since Day 1. Everyone admires his work ethic and his character, his impeccable character. All of those things like his passion for the game, his desire to get better and what he does off is incredible. His preparation is as good as I've ever seen."
While Barkov clearly sets the bar high for his teammates on the ice, it's his unwavering work ethic away from it that truly inspires them to be better. From gathering pucks after practice to taking the ice for a late-night skate after a tough loss, he inspires others to be as dedicated.
Some leaders carry the team, others push the team to carry themselves.
If you ask Barkov's teammates, they'll tell you he does both.
"When you see your best player working harder than everybody in the league, everybody under that wants to do that to become what he is," center Vincent Trocheck said. "Obviously, that's not going to happen for any of us because he's incredible, but when you see a guy like Barky staying after practice, shooting pucks, bagging them himself, going that extra miles, it's infectious. For guys coming into the league, they want to take that extra step, they want to follow in his footsteps, they want to do what he's doing. So for a guy that's not as vocal, I think Barky is a perfect example. He goes out there and works as hard as anyone in the league."
Not long after the "C" was stitched onto his jersey, Barkov sat down with FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive to talk about the weight the letter will carry heading into the upcoming season.
OLIVE: How did it feel the first time you saw the "C" on your jersey?
BARKOV: It feels awesome. I still can't believe it. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to being with this team this season.
OLIVE: Did the announcement catch you by surprise?
BARKOV: A little bit. Of course, there were some talks during the summer and maybe even a little before training camp. I kind of knew they were going to ask me about this. I'm ready for this thing.
OLIVE: What does it mean to be the captain of this team?
BARKOV: It means a lot. Of course, I've been around Mack and Willie Mitchell and [Ed] Jovanovski and many captains on national teams in Finland. The biggest thing is to just try to lead by example. We have really nice cheerleaders [in the locker room], so they can also do their job. A lot of people can talk here in this room. We have a great group here. We're going to do this together. It's an exciting time.
OLIVE: You talk about the other guys in the room. How much does it mean to know you have players like Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle in your corner?
BARKOV: They're great. They're going to be the first guys that I lean on if I need some help. Like I said, I've been saying this all the time, we're going to do this together with the whole team. This is a team sport. We're all in this together.
OLIVE: What have you learned from MacKenzie about leadership these past few seasons?
BARKOV: He's one of the best captains I've ever had. It was a really big honor to receive the jersey from him. He's a really nice guy and a really good person. He's also a really good player. To have him here for one more season, or however many seasons, it's awesome. He's a true leader. He's going to help me, for sure. Even the guys before him like Mitchell and Jovanovski, they taught me a lot. I'm lucky that I got to be around those guys
OLIVE: What did MacKenzie say to you about the captaincy?
BARKOV: He called me right away and told me he was excited and that he'd for sure help me if I needed some help. I'm really happy to hear that from him. To be with him on the same team and do this with everybody is great.
OLIVE: How much easier is to wear that "C" when you've been playing alongside so many of the same guys in the locker room for the past four or five seasons?
BARKOV: We'll see this season. Of course, I'm excited and hopefully everybody else is excited. To be around these guys is awesome. I've learned a lot from them. Hopefully in the future somebody will learn from me.
OLIVE: How much more comfortable have you gotten in speaking up over the years?
BARKOV: A lot. It's a lot easier than my first year. When I came here I was basically speaking two languages. I understood English, but I couldn't really speak it. Now, I can understand everybody, and hopefully when I speak everybody can understand me. It's way easier to communicate. I think everybody is starting to realize the type of guy I am.
OLIVE: You spent two seasons of your career sitting next to Shawn Thornton in the locker room. As someone who was not only an alternate captain but also very vocal, what were you able to learn from him during that time?
BARKOV: I learned a lot from him. I sat with him my second and third year. I really enjoyed feeling like I was under his wing. He'd been in this league forever and learned a lot from everybody. Now, he was sitting next to me and telling me the same stories he'd heard from other guys. It was awesome. I've been with so many good guys on this team.
OLIVE: A lot of kids grow up dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup, but did you ever dream about becoming a captain in the NHL?
BARKOV: Honestly, I don't even know. I'd been captain in juniors a lot, so maybe. But the Stanley Cup is the main thing. I have the "C" now, but the main thing is the Stanley Cup. Hopefully I'll help the team reach there. That's our main goal.
OLIVE: You have both Russian and Finnish heritage. Given that a Russian (Pavel Bure) and a Finn (Olli Jokinen) both captained the Panthers at one point, does that make the honor any more special than it already is?
BARKOV: It means a lot. And overall to just wear a "C" for this great organization means a lot. We're heading in the right direction. Everybody is doing a great job. Starting from our owners and management and coaches and players and everybody. Everybody here is really excited about this season.
OLIVE: What are your expectations for your first season as captain?
BARKOV: Our goal is to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. That is our goal. It's awesome to have guys that I've been around my whole career. Going forward with them, it's awesome. I'm just really happy to be on this team.