Panthers Best All-Time Starting Lineup Center: Aleksander Barkov

Check out the rest of the Panthers’ Best All-Time Starting Lineup series:

With just two teams left chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup, the season is coming to an end. For the Florida Panthers, it ended weeks ago. With nothing but the offseason to look forward to, we are going to look into all things Panthers.

The draft and free agency are the major dates coming up for the franchise currently, but what about looking into the history of a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of love?

Related: Panthers’ Best All-Time Starting Lineup Left Wing: Jonathan Huberdeau

One series will focus on the best players that have ever suited up for the Panthers, comprising the team’s all-time unit. The series will include two wingers, a centerman, two defensemen, and a goaltender, leading into a top 10 list of the greatest Panthers of all-time.

Next up in the series is a player that is somehow underrated and perfectly rated at the same time. The 2020-21 season will be his eighth in the NHL, all of which have been spent with the Panthers. One could argue that he is already the greatest player in franchise history. We’re talking about the captain, superstar center Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov.

The 2013 NHL Draft

The 2013 NHL Draft will be remembered for two things. The first being that the top of the draft was loaded with current NHL stars. Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Bo Horvat, Rasmus Ristolainen, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Pulock, and Shea Theodore are the most notable names to come out of the first round.

The second thing from that draft was the debate as to who would go first overall: Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon or Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones.

Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon – the most explosive offensive force available in the 2013 NHL Draft won the 2013 Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads. [Photo: David Chan]

Going into the draft, the Panthers held the second overall pick, and it was widely accepted that they would go with whoever didn’t go first between MacKinnon and Jones. MacKinnon’s linemate, Jonathan Drouin, was also receiving some talk as a top-two pick.

But the Panthers wound up surprising many. Barkov, who was rated fourth overall by many draft pundits, went second to the Panthers. Given Barkov’s reputation as a Peter Forsberg-like two-way player, no one seemed to think that it was a bad pick in the least.

Why He’s on the All-Time Team

Like teammate and usual linemate Jonathan Huberdeau, it took a few years before Barkov left his stamp on the franchise. He improved in each of his first three seasons, hitting career-highs with 28 goals, 31 assists, and 59 points in the 2015-16 season at just 20 years old.

His ascension to superstardom began as a 22-year-old in 2017-18, hitting career-bests in assists (51) and points (78). But the 2018-19 season was Barkov’s biggest to date. Prior to the season, he was named captain of the Panthers at just 23-years-old.

With the “C” on his sweater, Barkov took his game to a new level. He set new highs in goals (35), assists (61), and points (96), finishing 10th in the NHL in scoring. The cherry on top was his first individual award in the NHL, the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanlike play.

David Rittich, Aleksander Barkov
Calgary Flames David Rittich makes a save for the shootout win against Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

The 2019-20 season was a weird and disappointing one in Florida. Despite huge expectations following the signing of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers only made the postseason due to the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19. Barkov finished the year with 62 points, second-best on the team, and another disappointing playoff exit.

Barkov’s Legacy in Florida

Barkov is the first recognizable superstar on the Panthers’ roster since the days of Pavel Bure. He is widely viewed as one of the best two-way centermen in the game and would likely be compared to the best in the game if he played elsewhere.

Barkov is already third all-time in goals (155), second in assists (252), and 3rd in points (407) on the all-time franchise lists entering his 8th season. If he sticks around for the length of his career, it will come down to him and Huberdeau for the top two spots in nearly every major category.

Related: Florida Panthers and the History of the Rats

The biggest question mark to that tenure will come in the summer of 2022. Barkov will be an unrestricted free agent at that time, and he will be due a massive raise. As it stands, he is currently in the middle of a six-year, $35.4 million deal that pays him $5.9 million annually.

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For an elite-level centerman, he is criminally underpaid. The team will already have problems paying wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov this off-season, one can only wonder if the Panthers will pull out all the stops to keep Barkov in South Florida.

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