Eight years ago today, the Florida Panthers had the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and took a 17-year-old center from Tampere, Finland, who went by the nickname of ‘Sasha.’ Drafting Aleksander Barkov may have been one of the best things the franchise ever did.
Barkov, of course, has become one of the top players in the franchise’s history. He recently completed his eighth NHL season, one in which put him in the conversation as being an elite talent in the NHL. Barkov won the franchise’s first Selke Trophy and on Tuesday ended up sixth in balloting for the league MVP award.
Not too shabby.
The Panthers obviously had plenty of options with that No. 2 pick. With Colorado taking Seth McKinnon with the top pick, Florida had to chose between top defenseman Seth Jones as well as forward Jonathan Drouin.
As I wrote that day in Newark, “the Panthers needed a player ready to step into the NHL right now.”
Unknown to us at the time, but the team was up for sale.
General manager Dale Tallon did not have the green light to spend any money that offseason and the team never made an offer to pending free agent Stephen Weiss because of it.
Barkov, at the very least, would slide into the lineup. Vinnie Viola ended up buying the team a few months later, Barkov made his NHL debut following that.
“He’s big, strong, creative and can play in all three zones,” said Tallon, who told us he decided the pick was Barkov after their final interview.
“He makes other players around him better. He has great vision, great hands. He’s a rare commodity, a big center with skill. He fits into what we already have coming in size and speed. He gives us real strength up the middle.”
Barkov, who spent two seasons playing professionally in Finland, was ready to make the jump to the NHL. But who could have thought this pick would have been so big?
Today, eight years later, the Panthers and Barkov are synonymous. The two sides can extend their relationship next month as Barkov — who could become a free agent in 2022 — is able to sign a contract extension.
“I want to play in the NHL and this is my chance,’’ Barkov said shortly after the selection. “I have improved my game. I think I will (leave Finland) and play in Florida. I will be ready.’’
FLORIDA PANTHERS LINKS
The Panthers made an addition to their coaching staff on Tuesday with Tuomo Ruutu joining Joel Quenneville & Co. (Florida Hockey Now)
— Jonathan Huberdeau’s terrific season was rewarded with a little recognition Tuesday as he was named to the All-NHL second team. (Florida Panthers)
— Anthony Duclair surprises some young kids learning how to the play the game of hockey. (FP)
— Goldie joins Zaslow on The Ticket. (790)
AROUND THE NHL
The Lightning are a nightmare matchup and the Canadiens found that out Sunday in Game 1. The second game of the Finals come tonight from Tampa. (TSN)
— Connor McDavid won the Hart Trophy and it was a unanimous decision as expected. (TSN)
— Marc-Andre Fleury gets himself the Vezina. (VHN)
— Was Cale Makar shafted in Norris Trophy voting? (CHN)
— A number of National Hockey Now writers opine on what Evgeni Malkin’s next contract will look like. (PHN)
— Looking at the Islanders offseason. (NYIHN)
— Are these Detroit players worse than the ‘Dead Wings?’ (DHN)
The Marlins rallied but ended up losing again — this time in Philadelphia. (Miami Herald)
— Some Hurricanes recruiting news. (MH)
— The UM hoopsters are getting one of their players back. (MH)
— A look at what Coach Spo’s role with Team USA is. (MH)
— All these years later, Ndamukong Suh reveals why he failed with Dolphins. (Sentinel)
— Melvin Randall, the most decorated boys’ basketball coach in Broward County history, is applying for the vacant Dillard job after legendary coach Darryl Burrows retired in May. (Sentinel)