When Jaromir Jagr first came to the Panthers in 2014, Sasha Barkov was just 19 and was so in awe of the legendary forward that he just couldn't believe they were going to be teammates.
“I saw the trade come across and I didn't think it was real,” Barkov said a few years back. “It was all I could think of in that game that night.”
Not only were Barkov and the future Hall of Famer teammates, but they were put on the same line together.
Their chemistry was instant.
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A few years later and Barkov has evolved into one of the best young centers in the game.
Jonathan Huuberdeau, also lined up with Jagr since 2014, has blossomed into a slick goal-scorer with terrific hands and vision.
“I enjoyed playing with Jagr, but we're going in a different direction as a team,” Barkov said Friday.
“We're pretty excited. It's a fun time right now. I have been watching [Dadonov] a lot and he has been awesome ... once we signed him, I was real happy to see him come to our team. He's on another level.”
Now Jagr is gone from South Florida.
The Panthers and Jagr broke up over the summer with Florida going younger in signing Evgenii Dadonov -- a former Panthers' prospect who has grown into a scorer in his five years playing in the KHL.
Florida is rolling into this season with a new top line one it is banking on will do just fine without its most famous right winger.
There will never be another Jaromir Jagr with the Panthers -- unless, of course, he comes back -- but Dadonov with Barkov and Huberdeau could be something special in its own right.
“I would like to play on the first line or the second line but I have to work for that,” said Dadonov, who scored 10 goals in parts of three seasons with the Panthers before scoring 101 in the KHL.
“I don't think about it; I just do my job.”
Said GM Dale Tallon: “When [Dadonov] was first here, he just didn't have it together as far as effort, strength and conditioning. He was a 19-year-old from a foreign country. He learned valuable lessons, became better on and off the ice. He's a world-class player.”
Florida's top line had its share of injury issues last year with the 45-year-old Jagr being the only one who didn't miss time.
While Huberdeau missed the first 51 games with a lacerated Achilles' heel injury suffered in the preseason and Barkov missed 21 games with back issues issues, Jagr kept pressing along -- he played in all 82 games last year -- with a cavalcade of different linemates.
Both Huberdeau and Barkov are healthy heading into this season and say they're excited about the possibilities ahead.
“We have three skilled players and we'll see what happens after we start playing. But I think we can be a good line, we can be dominant,” Huberdeau said.
“We all have great vision, we just need to be better on defense. We'll get offensive chances. It's not easy to lose [Jagr], but it's part of hockey, part of the business.”
▪ Center Vincent Trocheck, who left Tuesday's preseason game in Nashville with an undisclosed injury, returned to practice on Friday.