The Florida Panthers are looking to capitalize on a relatively successful 2014-15 season. For that to happen, Florida needs to see increased production from Aleksander Barkov.
And judging by how he finished the year, the former 2nd overall pick could potentially lead the young Panthers to new heights. The irony about the last statement is that the team’s biggest star last season wasn’t young at all. In fact, he wasn’t even on the roster the entire year.
Jaromir Jagr had the biggest impact on the Panthers last season, but it wasn’t his play that made the difference. He proved to be a mentor and teacher to players like Barkov, and it looks like it had a huge impact. Immediately after his arrival in Florida, Jagr was placed on a line with Barkov and Johnathan Huburdeau. The results were almost instantaneous, as Barkov was able to record 15 points, seven of which were goals, during the 20 games he spent alongside Jagr.
“I had a slow start to the season, I didn’t play well,” said Barkov. “I think after Christmas I got my confidence back and started to play my own game. Then (Jagr) came in and I took one more step. Now I feel very confident.”
The decision to bring in Jagr wasn’t about winning immediately. (Although, that would have been an added bonus.) The opportunity the young guys in Florida had to learn from a player as wise and experienced as Jagr was priceless, and will no doubt go a long way for the team and Barkov’s, success this year and in the future. Barkov was thriving on the defensive end of the puck, but his offensive game was nowhere to be found.
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was very reluctant to unleash Brakov on the offensive end of the puck, because he didn’t seem to have that killer instinct on that end of the ice. Now, it seems as if Barkov has matured into that dominant two way player many envisioned him to be. Even he sees the difference in himself.
“At the start of the season I played only defense,” said Barkov. “I don’t know why I didn’t want to play offense, I wasn’t afraid of that, but now I feel like I can play in both ends and produce.”
You can give a lot of credit to the leadership of Jagr, but the vast improvements Barkov made to his game, and his confidence, have come from within him. The sky is still the limit for Barkov, and it’s only a matter of time before he knows that.