Hey everybody, 2016 called and it wants you to stop asking whether Aleksander Barkov is underrated. As Mike Babcock pointed out, Barkov does not ply his trade in the Center of the Hockey Universe™, so the fan identification and appreciation might be lacking. But the question is no longer whether Barkov is underrated, because he is. The more pertinent question is how he stacks up against the best players in the league.
And for those who play both with and against the 23-year-old workhorse center for the Florida Panthers, the answer to that is very, very high. He’s firmly established himself as a point-per-game player. He’s one of the best in the league at both ends of the ice. His ability to be “on the right side of the puck” is uncanny and his ability to think the game at a higher level ensures he’s rarely out of position. No forward in the NHL plays as many minutes as he does and few are as adept at going nose-to-nose with the best players in the world. And more impressively, he manages to do it without taking penalties. Literally. Barkov has zero penalty minutes in 32 games this season. To give you some perspective, Antoine Roussel (76), Brad Marchand (76), Evander Kane (63) and Zack Kassian (60) each has more PIM this season than the 58 Barkov has accumulated in the first five-plus seasons of his career.
“Nobody wants to take penalties and nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Barkov said. “I try to play smart and I know when they’re going to call the hooking or the tripping and I just try not to take any penalties.”
And going into Thursday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he and linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman have formed one of the hottest trios in the NHL. He has points in nine of his past 11 games, with 8-7-15 totals in that time span. And with 23:09 per game in ice time, Barkov is earning every penny of the $5.9 million per season he’s earning on what has become a very team-friendly contract. “We wish he could play 60 (minutes) instead of 30,” joked Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.