Yesterday kicked off games one and two of a seven-game pre-season schedule in which the Florida Panthers will participate in over the next 2 weeks. After defeating captain Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators first batch of players in a 6-3 comeback win, a whole new group of Panther rookies and veterans looked to mimic their teammates success in game 2 against the highly anticipated newcomer, defenseman Seth Jones. Among the Panthers who appeared in game 2, Finnish rookie sensation Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov stepped onto the ice at the BB&T Center for the very first time.
Barkov’s first 5 minutes and 52 seconds of his NHL pre-season career wasn’t exactly what you would call a grand entrance. At times, Barkov looked a bit timid, hesitant even. He was indecisive with the puck during certain plays, almost as if he was afraid to make a mistake. But Barkov will be the first to tell you that his play in the first period wasn’t his finest of moments. “The first two periods were a disaster. I wasn’t completely lost, but guys came flying from left and right. During the 3rd period things started going my way, but this is definitely not enough”. Barkov continued. “It didn’t feel weird when I came on the ice. I didn’t keeping thinking to myself that I’m playing again after a long while, but somehow, I just didn’t get into the game”.
Although Barkov felt that his game wasn’t exactly what he expected it to be, towards the end of the 2nd period, as well as the whole 3rd period, things began to gel for finnish rookie and line mates Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky as the trio cleaned things up, and developed a chemistry that was something special to witness. Kevin Dineen agreed: “He showed some youth early on”, referring to Barkov. “I thought his line mates thought they were going to play a very European style game, they looked fancy out there”, Dineen admitted. “ But as the game wore on, they simplified things, and they really started to move their feet and good things seemed to follow”. Head Coach Kevin Dineen was of course referring to the game-tying power play goal Tomas Kopecky scored in the 3rd period off a crisp and precise pass from Barkov.
Teammate Tomas Fleischmann spoke very highly of his new teammate as well. “This kid is awesome. He’s a great center, and I was excited to play with him in his first NHL pre-season game.” Fleischmann noted. “It wasn’t that bad, we were getting along better every shift. Time will help us for sure, and we got better in the 3rd period. We won the game and hopefully next game will be better”.
Even though he got off to a rocky start, it is evident that “Sasha” Barkov has an unbelievable skill level and talent that any team would be lucky to have. He posses a unique combination of size, vision, and technical skills, and has ability to make others around him that much better, and we certainly witnessed those attributes in last nights 3-2 OT win.
When asked if his first pre-season game was something to build on, Barkov seemed eager to put his 1st period play behind him and move onto the next game. “Yeah. The first game is now behind me, and there is no need to be nervous about that- not that I was. It is easier to turn the page to the next game.”
Barkov concluded his first pre-season game with 1 assist, 18:31 of TOI, 2 PIMs, 47% in the face-off circle, and a -1 rating.
Editor’s Note: (Quotes courtesy of Samuel Savolainen-Finnish NHL Correspondant, PantherParkway.com staff, and Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinal)