With each passing day, the Florida Panthers and GM Dale Tallon look smarter for grabbing Aleksander 'Sasha' Barkov second overall at the 2013 draft. Nathan MacKinnon went first, but many draft rankings had Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin ahead of Barkov. Today, the big Panthers center is a driving force behind their breakout 2015-16, and he's been rewarded handsomely.
Per Panthers beat writer and THN correspondent George Richards, the Cats have re-signed Barkov, a pending restricted free agent, to a six-year, $35.4-million contract. The deal carries a $5.9-million cap hit. And it sure looks like a coup for Barkov and the Florida organization.
Barkov, a 6-foot-3, 213-pound Finn, went right to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2013-14. He entered the league with a man's build and maturity level, having already played professionally for two seasons in the Liiga, Finland's top circuit. He teased as an NHL rookie but battled injury woes, finishing with eight goals and 24 points in 54 games. Last season, he started slowly but found a groove once Jaromir Jagr arrived via trade. Barkov ended up with 16 goals and 36 points in 71 games, but seven of his goals and 15 of his points came in his final 20 games. He clicked beautifully on the top line between Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau.
The stage was set for a big leap forward in a contract year, and it has absolutely happened. Barkov, still just baby at 20 years old, has 12 goals and 30 points through 38 games. He's on track to annihilate his career highs across the board. Six years of team control at a $5.9-million cap hit for a player of his pedigree is an excellent deal. Tallon has obviously learned watching, for example, P.K. Subban clean out the Montreal Canadiens financially because they gave him a bridge deal after his entry-level contract. Instead, Tallon followed what the New York Islanders did when they inked their franchise center John Tavares to a six-year extension paying him $5.5 million annually at the end of his ELC. That contract is arguably the best in the sport today, and the Panthers have followed it to a T. The $5.9-million cap hit is a bit higher, but so is the league salary cap compared to when Tavares signed in 2011.
The contract isn't absolutely risk free, as one could argue Barkov hasn't accomplished much yet in the NHL. But, really, he's accomplished quite a bit considering how young he is. He's already producing as a top-line center despite being a teenager just four-and-a-half months ago. His Panthers look playoff bound, too. He's an above-average possession player compared to the rest of his team, with a 5-on-5 Corsi relative mark of 1.3, per puckalytics.com.
And best of all, Barkov isn't likely at all to get sucked in by complacency. He gets to learn every day from Jagr, one of the hardest-working people ever to play the sport. Barkov told me last season he couldn't even believe the news at first when the Panthers acquired Jagr from New Jersey Feb. 26. Barkov was in awe of Jagr and said he found Jagr approachable and willing to help him and spend time with him. Role models don't get much more ideal for 20-year-old rising stars.
So while the Dave Bolland contract is an eyesore on Tallon's record, he gets more than a mulligan. He has Barkov locked up six more seasons and No. 2 center Nick Bjustad five more after he signed a six-year extension last season. That's two promising pivots for a combined $10 million. Tallon's multi-year extension to start 2016 looks awfully prudent now.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin