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Dadonov Seeing Uptick in Power Play Numbers

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - As the Florida Panthers prepare to embark on their second-half playoff push, few skaters on the team are carrying a hotter stick right now than Evgenii Dadonov.

While superstars like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov continue to be labeled as "underrated" by pundits around the league - a head-scratching phenomenon that can only be explained by a lack of exposure - the man they call "Daddy" might actually be a hidden gem.

Carrying an impressive four-game goal streak into Saturday's matchup in Montreal, Dadonov flew into the mid-season break on fire. Lighting the lamp 11 times over his last 15 games, the 30-year-old winger currently leads the Panthers and is tied for 13th in the league with 23 goals.

"He's always been a good player," Barkov said after Friday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "He's a goal-scorer. He knows from where he's going to score and where to go. He's obviously playing really well right now, and this entire season. Hopefully he's just going to keep going."

Given how he's played recently, there's no reason to think Dadonov will slow down too much.

Posting a career-high 28 goals in each of the last two seasons after returning from a successful five-year stint in the KHL, the Chelyabinsk, Russia native appears poised to blow past that total this season thanks in large part to a very noticeable uptick in his production on the power play.

With 33 games still left on the schedule, Dadonov has already recorded a team-best 10 goals on the man advantage, which are two more than he scored all of last season. Why the scoring surge, you ask? Well, on the surface, it has more to do with opportunity rather than minutes.

Last season, he averaged 3:21 per game on the power play. This season, despite his numbers going up, that number has actually dipped slightly to 3:19 per game. The personnel on Florida's top unit has also remain unchanged since last campaign, with Dadonov manning the same spot.

Playing what's referred to as the "bumper" position on the power play, Dadonov can typically be found located in the slot between the hash marks when the extra attacker is on the ice. He's in the dead center of all of the action, right in the middle of the opposing team's four penalty killers.

"It's a tough spot to be," Barkov said. "You know you're going to get slashed and everything, but it's crucial for releasing the pressure. If there's pressure on the wall, you need a guy in the middle. He's always there and he's always helping. On the breakouts, he's carrying the puck into the zone and battling all of the time. He's an all-around great player and easy to play with."

The job certainly requires a level of physicality, but Dadonov doesn't shy away from that.

Take, for example, this power-play goal in the video below.

After the puck bounces off a body in front, Dadonov, without hesitation, dives straight to the ice and crashes into an opposing player -- eventually ending up underneath him -- in order to whack in the loose puck and put the Panthers up 6-4 during a comeback win in New Jersey on Oct. 14.

Video: FLA@NJD: Dadonov lays out to net rebound for PPG 

However, it really hasn't been those gritty goals that have led to his scoring surge.

As opposing penalty kills focus more of their attention on shutting down the likes of Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman, Dadonov has had a lot more space to work with this season - and the team has taken advantage. In fact, of his 10 power-play goals, six have been one-timers from the slot.

Going back to the video tape, a good example of one of those goals can be found below.

Settling down a loose puck, Dadonov, rather than trying to force a shot, kicks the rubber back out to the point to reset the play before heading into to the slot, where Huberdeau sets him up for a one-timer to give Florida a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-3 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 16.

Video: LAK@FLA: Dadonov buries feed from Huberdeau for PPG

Thanks to having just a little bit more room to make plays like that, Dadonov has already fired off 35 shots on the power play, which are just eight fewer than he registered all of last season.

"Not only does he draw attention, he obviously enhances other people as well," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Dadonov's work on the power play. "He's got a real good feel of settling things down looking for better options out of tight areas. There's deceptiveness that he can shoot it at any moment. He deserves some credit for having that patience and play recognition."

When discussing the factors he thinks have contributed to Dadonov's strong showing in the first half of the season, Quenneville also made sure to give a lot of credit to the other two-thirds of the team's top line, adding that the trio has "given us a lot of production this season" on offense.

Of Dadonov's 23 goals, Huberdeau has assisted on 17, while Barkov has helped out on 10.

"Smart player that really positions himself in a good way," Quenneville said. "He's got a tremendous shot and anticipates both sides of the puck well. Huby's had one of those years with the puck that's been special, so some of the plays and passes he's received have been helpful in that area as well. I think he's got a deceptive shot in that area on the power play."

But, regardless of whether or not he's working on the power play or at even-strength, the most important thing for Dadonov this season has been his consistency. He's never gone more than four games without a point and has pieced together three point streaks of at least four games.

Tied for third on the team with 40 points, he enters the second half on a six-game point streak.

"Everyone has their own strengths on the offensive side of things, but with Dads, he's been real consistent in his contributions," Quenneville said. "It's been very noticeable how he's been important to our power play and our production as well."

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