Aleksander Barkov knows he needs to shoot the puck more, but a little prodding from coaches and teammates hasn’t hurt.
Barkov, 19, is in his second season as Florida’s top-line center, and his shot is as good as it gets. Sometimes, old habits are hard to break.
“My shot is better, but I have to use it more,’’ Barkov said on Thursday, a few days after his wicked wrist shot beat San Jose’s Antti Niemi for his second goal of the season.
“I have to be more selfish because I’ve always thought ‘pass first.’ I have to change that mentality.’’
Barkov missed most of the second half of last season because of a knee injury, but during the summer, his wrist shot was one of the biggest things he worked on.
Tuesday, his powerful shot zipped past the goalie and hit the back of the goal cage so hard it ricocheted out so fast officials initially didn’t know if it went in.
“I always think to pass, but I have to shoot,’’ Barkov said. “It’s hard to change, but I have to.’’
Although new linemates Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky will likely benefit from Barkov’s good hands and passing ability, they want him to shoot more as well.
Selfishly, Upshall knows what can happen when Barkov shoots. Either the puck is going in, or as is often the case, the rebound will come out in a spot where he or Kopecky can clean it up and score one themselves.
“He shoots the puck so well but sometimes we have to remind him that it’s OK to shoot it,’’ said Upshall, who had success when paired with Barkov last season.
“Sometimes he creates a better chance by shooting it than passing. We don’t mind that. I love playing with him, and one of my best stretches last season with with him and [Brad] Boyes. I like the way he plays and at right wing, I’m like a left-handed center who sees you and can hit you coming up the ice. He’s a really talented and gifted player.’’
Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, is one of the Panthers’ top offensive players and one they are counting on to do some of the scoring.
Last year, Barkov scored on 9.2 percent of the 87 shots (eight goals) he took.
This year, he’s had a 13.3 percent success rate.
Florida has won each game in which Barkov has scored a goal.
“He’s a big guy who gets into the slot and has a pretty good shot,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said.
“We want him to shoot more pucks but everyone to shoot more, to be honest. We’ve definitely talked to Barkov about shooting it more. Put the puck to the net and good things happen.’’
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov missed Tuesday’s game after leaving Saturday’s loss to Calgary with a knee injury.
Gallant said Kulikov’s injury wasn’t serious and expects him to resume skating on Friday. Kulikov will not play against the Islanders but could return on next week’s West Coast trip.
“He’s looking pretty good, things are going in the right direction,’’ Gallant said. “I don’t think it’s too serious. He’s going good. [Thursday] was a good off-ice day for him.’’
▪ Winger Sean Bergenheim (lower-body injury) participated in Thursday’s practice with the fourth line and could be available for Friday’s game.
Bergenheim was drafted by the Islanders in 2002 and spent six seasons in the New York organization.
“He skated well [Thursday], and it looks like he’s pretty close to being game-ready,’’ Gallant said. “We’ll see how it is. It was only one practice. We’ll make a decision [Friday] after the morning skate.’’
▪ The Panthers are holding Hockey Fights Cancer night on Friday with the first 5,000 fans receiving commemorative silicon wrist bands.
Friday: Islanders at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560.
The series: Florida leads 41-35-8.
Of note: The Islanders have been to the playoffs once in the past seven seasons but have started out 10-5-0 and are in second in the Metropolitan Division. New York has won four in a row, including a 6-0 win Tuesday against the Avs.