After a trying first half, the Panthers are finally getting some claws.
Barkov has been out of the lineup since the end of December with a back injury. In 36 games played, he has nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points. His return will be a big boost for the Panthers. While he was out of action, Vincent Trocheck filled in admirably as the top-line center, leading the Panthers in scoring, but below him either left winger Jussi Jokinen filled in or injury-plagued Nick Bjugstad moved up. Jokinen has 13 points in 41 games while Bjugstad has just one goal and three points in 23 games this season. Barkov is in the first year of a six-year, $35.4MM contract.
Menawhile, Friday’s game versus Anaheim will be the season debut for Huberdeau. He suffered an achilles injury in a pre-season game (Twitter link via @myregularface). Huberdeau was part of a very successful first line last season, alongside Barkov and the legendary Jaromir Jagr. Huberdeau set career highs with 20 goals and 59 points as the Panthers finished first in the Atlantic Division. In his absence, Jon Marchessault and Jokinen filled in.
Despite missing two-thirds of their top line for much of the year and the turmoil surrounding their front office, Florida sits just four points back of Philadelphia for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The 22-19-10 Panthers have a game in hand on the Flyers, and will need Barkov and Huberdeau to make hay as they try to get back in the playoff race.