Florida Panthers announce their 10th captain in franchise history
In just five short years with the Florida Panthers, Aleksander Barkov has morphed from a quiet first-round pick from Finland into one of the most respected up-and-coming forwards in the National Hockey League.
On Monday, hours before the Panthers’ preseason opener against the Nashville Predators, it was announced that he will serve as the Panthers’ captain for the 2018-19 season. At 23 years old, Barkov is the youngest player in franchise history to be bestowed the honor. He takes over as captain for Derek MacKenzie, a 15-year NHL veteran who held the captain honor the past two seasons.
“A dream come true,” Barkov said. “I mean, it’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever had in my life.”
It’s an honor that Barkov never thought about until this summer, when he first was approached about the possibility of leading the team.
Barkov is normally one of the quiet players in the locker room, the one who puts in extra hours on the ice or in the gym to show his dedication rather than expressing it vocally. Some of that stemmed from his move from Finland after the Panthers selected him second overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. Some of that stems from his demeanor.
“The way he prepares — it’s infectious and rubs off on young guys and the older guys appreciate what he does,” coach Bob Boughner said. “He plays in every crucial situation whether it’s on defense or offense and plays the right way.”
Barkov added: “I just love hockey and just play hockey and try to be what I am on the ice.”
Here’s what he is, at least from what the stats say about him: 331 career appearances (all with the Panthers), 100 goals and 149 assists. Barkov was named an NHL All-Star last year during a season in which he set career highs in assists (52) and points (78).
“Hopefully somebody will look up to me and work as hard as I do and look at the game like I do,” Barkov said.
Boughner noticed it. General manager Dale Tallon noticed it. His teammates noticed it.
And now, Barkov is the 10th captain in Panthers franchise history, joining a group that includes Brian Skrudland (1993-94 to 1997-98), Scott Mellanby (1997-98 to 2000-01), Pavel Bure (2001-02), Paul Laus (2001-02), Olli Jokinen (2003-04 to 2007-08), Bryan McCabe (2009-10 to 2010-11), Ed Jovanovski (2012-13 to 2013-14), Willie Mitchell (2014-15 to 2015-16) and MacKenzie (2016-17 to 2017-18).
“He’s our best player game in and game out,” Tallon said. “Nobody works harder off ice. His preparation is second to none. His attention to detail is second to none. And he’s only 23 years old. He’s an amazing young man. We wanted to get this young core to take a new direction and be leaders in our locker room. I think this is a great step for us.”
The Panthers’ young core made great strides last year, noticeably after the All-Star break when Florida was one of the hottest teams in the league but wound up missing the playoffs by just one point.
Barkov will be leading the push but knows he has the support of the locker room with him as well.
“I have the ‘C’ but that doesn’t mean I’m the only one,” Barkov said. “Everyone in this room, we’re going to do this together. Hopefully we’ll go really far.”