Aleksander Barkov made a brief appearance during the Florida Panthers development camp last week, skating the first two days and then sitting out the last two. He still managed to provide one of the highlights of the week with a shootout move that quickly found its way to the Internet, a one-handed backhand flip into the middle of the net.
Barkov didn't really need to show the Panthers anything last week. The main reason they brought him to development camp was to evaluate his rehabilitation from the knee injury that cut short what had been a tremendous rookie season for the second pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
"We just want to make sure that when training camp comes that he's raring to go," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "He has nothing to prove to me. We just brought him in here to evaluate him and look at him and everything's good."
The Panthers have high hopes for Barkov, who will turn 19 a couple of weeks before the start of training camp.
As an 18-year-old rookie Barkov spent a good part of the 54 games he played centering the first line. He displayed an all-around game that belied his youth.
The Panthers are confident that was only the beginning.
"This guy is going to be a superstar in this League," said Brian Skrudland, who served as an assistant coach for the Panthers for most of last season before returning to his post as director of player development. "I can't wait to watch him. I had the opportunity of spending every day with him last year and his work ethic, both on and off the field, is unmatched. That is going to allow him to stay in this game a long time."
Barkov's last game came at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when he was playing for his native Finland.
He began practicing with his Panthers teammates toward the latter stages of the regular season, but with Florida out of Stanley Cup Playoff contention, the Panthers saw no reason to take any chances by putting him back into the lineup.
"I got injured in the Olympics and was pretty sad about that," Barkov said. "My season ended pretty early. I want to play right now. I can't wait until the next season."
Barkov was headed back to Finland for about a month after development camp, and was planning on getting back on the ice this week.
His rookie season featured eight goals and 16 assists and certainly was viewed as a success, but he was far from satisfied.
"I was happy because I made the team and I was here all year," Barkov said. "I'm happy with that, but I want to be a much better player and much bigger player for this organization. I want to win something big with this team.
"I want to be faster, stronger and I want to play a bigger role than last year."
At this stage it's fair to expect Barkov to once again center the top line, and there's an expectation he'll be teamed with free agent acquisition and fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen.
Tallon said July 1 that Jokinen had indicated a desire to play with Barkov before signing with the Panthers. The feeling was reciprocal.
"I was thinking about [playing with Jokinen] before they signed him," said Barkov, who played a few shifts alongside Jokinen during the Olympics. "I knew he was going to be a free agent and he probably was going to sign with Florida. Then he did, so I was pretty happy. I'm very excited to be his teammate for the next two years. He's a great player. I would love to play with him."
Jokinen is a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but the players who will be counted on to lead Florida's offense next season are its young guns, among them Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Barkov.
Barkov showed last season he possessed tremendous ability when it comes to passing the puck, but now the Panthers are hoping he becomes a bit more assertive and shoots more.
"It's just in his makeup," Skrudland said. "That comes with age. You pass these messages along, but eventually they see it as well. He's a real smart hockey guy, [hockey] IQ off the charts. So I'm not too worried about that. When push comes to shove, he's a guy we're going to rely on to be putting some pucks in the net."