When being asked who the best player on the Florida Panthers is, many would quickly respond with Aleksander Barkov. With his quick hands, astounding vision and bewildering hockey IQ, who wouldn’t? However, if you take the time to do a deep-enough analysis and compare both their analytical and statistical values along with breaking down their individual game, it will become apparent that this title should go to Jonathan Huberdeau, and here is why.
Evaluating Their Playing Style
Since being chosen with the second-overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry-draft, everybody knew what the Panthers were getting with Barkov. The native of Tampere was blessed with the perfect size and strength that you could ask for in an NHL centerman, as despite standing at 6’3”, 210 lbs, he is quick and seemingly weightless on his feet on the rush, which leaves him with the ability to make dangerous plays at a rapid pace. While he is most known for his “defensive” game, I would lean more towards his playmaking skills as his most valuable asset, largely credited to his vision around the ice.
If you thought that Barkov was a sure thing in 2013, you should hear about Huberdeau. Coming off of a season where he scored 43 goals and 105 points with the Saint Johns Icedogs of the QMJHL, he was chosen third overall by the Panthers. He went on to have an additional 117 points in 67 games during his next two seasons in Quebec before making the jump to the NHL.
He showcases flashy hands, a booming one-timer along with a quick wrist-shot which makes him underrated if he has enough space. Huberdeau, like Barkov, also has dream-like playmaking abilities, which he uses to help propel linemates scoring through the roof, like when he helped Zack Phillips achieve a 58-goal season in the QMJHL back in 2010-11.
Into the Basics Stats
During the 2019-2020 campaign, Huberdeau and Barkov both put up good numbers on a Panthers team that struggled. Huberdeau recorded 78 points in 68 games played, on pace for a 94 point season if it had been completed in full. Barkov, on the other hand, struggled to stay at a point per game pace, and ultimately fell short, finishing with 62 points in 66 games, his lowest point total since the 2016-17 season. Huberdeau finished the shortened season ranked 11th in points and 50th in goals league-wide, while Barkov finished 31st and outside of the top 50 in said respective categories.
In the past three seasons, Huberdeau has combined for a total of 239 points, while Barkov has combined for 236. While it’s a very slim difference, however, it shows Huberdeau has been better through the basic offensive stats. Time to compare the two defensively, and see if the “Selke Barkov” argument holds up.
Deep Dive Into the Defense
Barkov started off his NHL career as an underrated defensive talent, genuinely competing for the Selke trophy, and rightfully so. However, since then, he has gradually fallen off in the defensive aspect of things. While still being above average defensively, it’s a very small margin.
Using the xEVD_GAR statistic tool from HBFAnalytics, which calculates how much above league average a player is at even-strength defensively, it is shown that Barkov possesses a 0.6 compared to Huberdeau’s 0.8. Both are just slightly above average defensively, but Huberdeau has a very small advantage due to the RelTCA (Relative to Teammate Corsi) & RelTxGA (Relative to Teammate Expected Goals), along with taking into account each forwards QoC (Quality of Competition).
Along with this, if we use the Expected Goals tool from ChartingHockey, it will show that Huberdeau has a xGA/60 (Expected Goals Allowed per 60) of 2.439, which is slightly lower than Barkov’s 2.458, once again giving Huberdeau the advantage. This shows that despite the gap being small, Huberdeau still has the edge on Barkov defensively, as this specific stat shows that he allows less quality scoring chances than Barkov every game.
Offensive Impact Analytically
Going back to the xGAR statistic, Huberdeau has a much higher offensive impact analytically than Barkov, as he provides an expected 8.6 goals above replacement, compared to Barkov having a 6.7 rating in that category. This is measured by the quality of shots these players take, the number of shots, quality of teammates, goals per 60 and also primary and secondary assists per 60.
On the power play, Huberdeau has also proven to be more valuable in that role, beating out Barkov by a mere 0.4 xPPO_GAR, with his quick hands leading to dynamic cross-crease passes, as 24 of his 55 assists came off of the power play this past season, along with an additional five power-play goals.
While Barkov has also proven to be a big power-play force, with 20 points coming off of the power play during his recent campaign, he’s not as much of a driver as Huberdeau has proven he is.
While there is no doubt in mine or anybody’s mind that Barkov is an extremely talented player who will tear up the league for many years to come, I think that he is unfairly ranked above Huberdeau, who has simply been better in every role in the recent years. He is the driving force of the Panthers’ offense, and without him, the Panthers would have struggled even more with a one-dimensional Mike Hoffman taking his place as the number one winger on the team.
Barkov is the true leader of this crew without a doubt, but Huberdeau provides an offensive spark to the franchise that they haven’t had since the days of Pavel Bure and has to be at the top when ranking players on the Panthers.