The 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship offers another opportunity for Barkov to represent his country, and win a medal but this time to do so on the ice.
In his rookie season in the NHL, Barkov was named to the Finnish 2014 Olympic team and given the chance to play alongside Mikael Granlund and Teemu Selanne.
To play alongside Selanne, who is a national hero in Finland, would have been a welcome chance to learn from one of the best. The anticipation of contributing at the Olympics was short lived when Barkov suffered a knee injury that ended his season altogether.
“I was disappointed because I wanted to play really bad but I got injured in my second game there,” Barkov recounted. “To play for the first time on that stage, with those players would have been special.”
Barkov watched as Finland lost its semi-final contest to Sweden but then later winning its bronze medal game against the United States. It was Finland’s second consecutive Olympic bronze medal.
Still unable to play, Barkov could not represent Finland at the 2014 World Championship in Minsk and would only have to read about Finland’s slow start but almost immediate resurgence that led to a final matchup against Russia. As the son of Alexander Barkov, who on occasion when he was a player represented his native country Russia in the World Championship, this would have been a special experience. But it was not to be.
“I was following all the games in Minsk and was cheering really hard for Finland,” he said of last year’s tournament. “They had really good success there. We want to repeat that here but have a better final game.”
But now comes another chance and it’s exciting. It is motivating. And Barkov relished the chance to finally show what he can do.
Much the same can be said for his time with the Florida Panthers. A much heralded teenage player, Barkov was drafted second overall and made the team out of training camp. He endured having to get accustomed to hockey and life in North America, not easy for someone whose native language is not English and grew up in Tampere, Finland.
“It was a little bit different getting used to life in North America,” Barkov said. “It is different than it is in Finland or Europe for that matter. I liked it a lot. I like the guys on the team. It made it easier to fit in and get a spot on the team.”
54 games and then the knee injury forced his season to an end. Upon coming back if Barkov felt any trepidation because of the knee, he wasn’t showing it. Barkov says he was undeterred.
However, with five points in his first 25 games there was legitimate concern about the young man’s confidence and productivity. However, he has found his way. In his final 46 games played Barkov scored 14 goals and 17 assists.
He further and completely came into his own when Jaromir Jagr was brought to the team. Before the trade deadline, Florida GM Dale Tallon pulled the trigger on a trade that brought Jagr to South Florida for draft picks.
Barkov and Jagr teamed with Jonathan Huberdeau to form the team’s most effective line combination and gave the two young forwards a chance to learn from a two-time Stanley Cup champion and Triple Gold Club member. With Jagr signed for next year, the trio hopes to keep their line intact and beautiful magic in place.
“He is an awesome player and an awesome guy,” said Barkov of Jagr. “He likes to talk a lot and that helped me a lot. When Jagr came in I think we took another step and you saw how that improved the way we played.”
On a team as young as the Panthers, leadership will grow and develop among with its young stars. Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad – both representing Canada – and Jagr, also here representing the home side Czech Republic, can help with that.
For now all three are representing their national teams and focused on what lies ahead. Barkov has found his confidence on the ice. This setting and format on the big ice should further elevate Barkov and show him off as a future leader of the Finnish team.