|Center Aleksander Barkov (Getty Images)
Rookie center Aleksander Barkov joined the team in Columbus Friday where he practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering a lower body injury in Buffalo on Jan. 21st. It was a good sign to see the Flying Finn back on the ice with his teammates at Nationwide Arena.
"Our thought process with him really is we have got to make sure, he's 18-years old, he's in good position," said interim head coach Peter Horachek following practice as the team prepared to take on the Blue Jackets Saturday night. "(He'll) skate again tomorrow. I would guess we would be shooting for Tuesday."
Barkov has missed the last four games for the Panthers and despite missing those games is tied for second on the team with 24 points (8-16-24).
"He's cleared to play. First of all I just don't think that's enough time for him," said Horachek on why he will most likely return to the lineup Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center. "I'd like to make sure he's up to speed. (We're) looking after his best interests which is him."
Veteran center Scott Gomez has filled in nicely on the Killer B line with Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim during his absence, most recently combining to put Florida up 2-0 in Toronto on Thursday night. Horachek, however, says that Barkov's presence on that line has certainly been missed.
"Barky is a good player all over. He sees the ice really well. He's a bigger body. It's just different players," said Horachek. "I think Barky is at another level, that's why he's had success. The way that line created and I think Bergy and Boysie have something to do with that. They've continued to have a few chances as well."