From now until the start of training camp on Sept. 22, Florida Hockey Now will profile players who will play a key role for the 2022-23 Florida Panthers.
Today’s Player: Captain Sasha Barkov.
What Happened Last Year: Barkov missed 13 games early in the season due to a pair of injuries — and was also held out of the final two meaningless games — but still had a season to remember.
The Florida captain came within eight points of tying his career-high 96 which he set in 2018-19. Barkov likely would have hit 40 goals had he played against Ottawa or Montreal at the end of the season but still scored 39 which is four more than he ever had previously.
Barkov is also one of Florida’s top performers on special teams, scoring 12 goals with the advantage and led the Panthers with four shorthanded goals.
What to Look For at Camp: With longtime teammate Jonathan Huberdeau off to Calgary, Barkov is the leading scorer returning to the Panthers (not counting Matthew Tkachuk who got 104 with the Flames) and will likely be back centering the top line as he has since 2014.
Huberdeau and Barkov played the most games together over the years, but they did not play as much on the same line last season.
It will be interesting to see who new coach Paul Maurice lines up with Barkov in camp.
Carter Verhaeghe has been with Barkov on the left side his two seasons with the Panthers and is likely to return. Those two seem to have a dynamic relationship so expect them to continue to team up.
But who takes the right side of Florida’s top line?
An obvious choice is Tkachuk as those two playing together looks like a powerhouse 1-2 punch with Verhaeghe benefiting as well.
Tkachuk can also play the left side as he did in the past with Calgary which would allow Verhaeghe to slide down and allow Sam Reinhart to move up to the top line on the right side.
It will also be interesting to see where Maurice puts Barkov on the top power play unit as he was moved around quite a bit last season.
SASHA BARKOV GIVES US THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/iU6o78LkgY
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 14, 2022
Questions To Be Answered This Season: Barkov is one of those special players who makes everyone around him better.
So, it will be up to Maurice to decide whether he loads up the top line with some serious firepower or mix things up and see what happens when younger players — Grigori Denisenko or Rudolfs Balcers — get a chance to play with No. 16.
In Their Words: “I think I am playing with pretty good players,” Barkov said during the season, mentioning various linemates such as Huberdeau, Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair and Sam Reinhart.
“They make me look good. We have great chemistry as a team so it does not matter who you are playing with, you know you are going to get your chances. You have to capitalize on them. I am really happy to be playing with these guys.”
Overall Outlook: If Barkov stays healthy and plays 70-plus games, watch out. The 96 points he scored in 2019 will likely be obliterated as he and Tkachuk light up scoreboards around the league.
The 115 points Huberdeau scored last year could last just one season as the franchise record with Barkov setting out to make all of the team’s top marks his own.