Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov doesn’t give his age a second thought when he takes the ice against older players with more experience.
After all, Barkov became the youngest player to score an NHL goal on Oct. 3 at 18 years 31 days.
Through 41 games, he is tied for second on the team with 19 points — seven goals and 12 assists. That puts him sixth among NHL rookies.
“First when I came here it was a little bit hard because it’s a different world, much better league than Finland with the best players,” Barkov said. “It took a couple of games to adjust, and now I feel good and I’m ready to go.”
Of late, Barkov, fellow Finn Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes have been the Panthers’ most consistent line.
After battling injuries, Bergenheim has four goals in his past four games. Those three have combined for 11 goals and 10 assists since Dec. 10.
It’s no coincidence their success coincides with Florida’s play of late. The Panthers tied a franchise record with 17 points in December, finishing 8-5-1 after opening the season 3-9-4 for the worst record in the NHL.
Fellow rookie Nick Bjugstad said that line thrives on capitalizing on its chances by creating many of them.
“They basically have been dominating the last couple of games,” Bjugstad said. “[Barkov will] have a good chance of making that Olympic team, and he’s really proven himself so far.”
In Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers, Barkov assisted on Boyes’ goal during the second period.
Barkov hustled for the puck deep in New York’s zone and intercepted Dan Girardi’s pass behind the net. He then crossed it in front to Boyes, who backhanded his shot through Henrik Lundqvist’s pads.
“Barky’s got a sixth sense sometimes,” coach Peter Horachek said. “He sees the ice so well, he’s got great hands, he’s a great passer. The chemistry with his linemates is really good.”
Horachek said that talented young players often get drafted for their offense rather than their defense. They must then adjust to the style of play in order to compete with the world’s best.
Barkov, the 2013 NHL Draft’s second overall selection, proved he has made that transition.
“I have always been a two-way forward, and I like to play everywhere,” Barkov said. “I just try to play where the puck is.”
“He’s feeling a lot better, so we’re hopeful things will come around pretty quick with him, quicker than I thought,” Horachek said. “A lot of times that’s kind of the psychosomatic thing where it’s in your head when you believe you want to be back and it pushes your body a little bit.”
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson also practiced while wearing a helmet with a cage. Gudbranson, who went on injured reserve last Friday after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone, is staying away from contact.
“He’s coming along, too,” Horachek said. “It’s good to see him out there.”