The Florida Panthers first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov appears ready to pick up right where the trio finished last season.
Huberdeau, Barkov and Dadonov combined for 258 points last season as the Panthers finished with 86 points but failed to make the playoffs. Early indications are that new Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville will keep the three together on the Panthers top line as they push to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
“It’s a special line, a special player (Barkov). You can reflect back on what they did on the power play but on a 5-on-5 line, there’s a lot of ability there offensively,” Quenneville said. “These guys are going to be relied upon a lot, not just offensively. “
From the start of training camp, Quenneville has kept the trio together for most practices and preseason games. In the past two training camps, the trio did not spend a lot of time working together on a line, so spending time during this year’s camp should bode well for the upcoming regular season.
“I feel like the past few years we never really played together. It’s good to work on chemistry again in training camp,” Huberdeau said. “Hopefully we can play the whole camp together.”
The immediate results of keeping them together appears to be producing positive results. In the Sept. 24 preseason game versus Tampa Bay, the line scored three goals, including a pair of goals by Barkov, and recorded four assists. In only the first two preseason appearances, the line has registered 13 points.
After excelling as a line during the 2017-18 season, the trio did not start last season together on the top line. However, then head coach Bob Boughner changed his lines during the season and put the three back together, forming one of the best lines in the NHL in 2018-19.
Barkov, the second overall pick in 2013, took over as team captain last year. He led the Panthers with 96 points, which set a franchise record and continued. In setting the record, he scored a career-high 35 goals, which was second only to Mike Hoffman’s 36 team-high goals. Barkov’s 61 assists and 96 points were also career-highs.
Huberdeau, who is entering his eighth NHL season, recorded his own franchise record with 62 assists, while also posting career-highs in goals, assists and points. The 26-year-old left-winger has continued to improve since being drafted third in the 2011 Draft and has emerged as one of the top left wings in the NHL.
Dadonov, 30, has been a valuable addition for the Panthers, as he also set career-highs with 28 goals, 42 assists and 70 points in just his second season back in the NHL after being out of the league since 2011-12. Prior to returning to the Panthers for the 2017-18 season, he played the previous three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with St. Petersburg SKA.
Panthers’ Power Play
Part of the success of this trio is gained from the team’s power play. Barkov and Huberdeau are fixtures on Florida’s man-advantage group, while Dadonov sees a good amount of ice time when their opponents are shorthanded.
In 2018-19, Florida had the second-best power play in the league, scoring 72 power-play goals at a 26.8% conversion rate, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning. Much of that success can be traced to Huberdeau and Barkov, who finished third and fourth respectively on the team in power-play points. Huberdeau had 11 goals and 34 points on the power play. Barkov totaled 31 points on the power play, including 13 goals, which was second on the team to Hoffman’s team-high 17 goals. In a part-time role, Dadonov chipped in 8 goals and 17 points.
Franchise Scoring Leaders
Heading into this season, Huberdeau and Barkov are closing in on placing themselves at the top of the team’s record books. Despite the lack of team success in recent seasons, both have climbed up several of the club’s all-time scoring lists and have been bright spots for a team that failed to reach the playoffs.
Huberdeau, who has 359 points as a Panther, is just 60 points behind Olli Jokinen as the team’s all-time leader in scoring. In addition, his 234 career assists trails only Stephen Weiss, who had 249 assists as a Panther, before he will achieve the most assists in franchise history. Based on his production of the past two seasons, it is very plausible that he could take over the top spot in both categories during the 2019-20 season.
In both of the aforementioned categories, Barkov ranks fifth. His 345 points and 210 assists in his career have him close behind Huberdeau as they both close in on the franchise records and appear ready to increase their totals as they challenge each other for years to come.
I have followed the NHL since the early 1980s, when offense was king. I lived in the midwest until 2013, when I relocated to south Florida.