Tonight in Sunrise, an established NHL superstar will face off against the next big thing as Aleksander Barkov and the Florida Panthers host John Tavares and the New York Islanders.
Two exceptional talents meeting at different points in their careers, both Barkov and Tavares entered the NHL under similar circumstances. After being selected 2nd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Barkov was immediately thrust into the spotlight both on and off of the ice – much like Tavares had been after being taken by the Islanders 1st overall in the 2009 draft. And like Tavares, Barkov has already shown signs of brilliance as he continues to succeed while playing top-line minutes for the Panthers.
Though one was a Hart Trophy finalist last season and the other is just getting his feet wet under the bright lights of NHL arenas, Barkov and Tavares can be considered kindred spirits having both been given the keys to their respective NHL franchises very early in their careers.
While these kind of expectations may be unfair to place on 18 and 19-year-old kids, how both Tavares and Barkov responded to this adversity should become commonplace for all top-tier draft picks in the future.
Though it seems like nearly a lifetime ago, Tavares recalled his expectation-laden rookie season as an important learning experience and gave some insight as to just what Barkov may be going through internally as he follows a similar path to the one he took during the 2009-2010 season.
“It’s the everyday grind of the season, there’s a lot going on.” Tavares said of the challenges he faced during his rookie season “As exciting as it is you are still learning a whole lot, there’s a lot of adjustments being made on and off the ice and it’s just determining how to handle all that. I remember midway through the season just not feeling great everyday and you’re not going to feel the way you do early in the season because you’re not as fresh. I remember physically how much I had to work on and how much I had to change in the offseason to improve a lot of things and I’m sure he’s (Barkov) realizing that now too.”
The perfectionist that he is, Barkov is most certainly already coming up with a list of things to improve on this offseason and though the season is only halfway over, the young forward has yet to show signs of fatigue or any lack of freshness having scored 7 points (1G-6A-7P) in his last eight games played.
Making Barkov’s life easier both on the scoresheet and off the ice has been fellow Finnish forward and NHL veteran, Sean Bergenheim. Playing alongside Barkov, Bergenheim has been red hot in recent weeks, scoring six goals over his last eight games played.
However, before he found his way to Florida, Bergenheim spent several seasons on Long Island, including John Tavares’ rookie season in 2009. Having witnessed both players adapt to the NHL as rookies, Bergenehim gave his insight as to what he saw out of a young John Tavares, as well as how good he thinks Barkov can be given the same amount of time to grow.
“With Tavares you could always see that he had that in him and now he’s second in scoring. You could see that he had the tools to become one of the best players in the league, but also there you saw that maybe he needed to get adjusted to the NHL for one or two years. With Barkov too, you can just sit here and wonder what he’s going to be in three years … he’s so good right now. That improvement that Tavares has made in his game, definitely I see that Barkov has the tools for that.”
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