Though the Florida Panthers were not one of the teams without a captain as the 2018-19 season draws near, they have still named a new one today. Aleksander Barkov will take over from Derek MacKenzie as Panthers captain, becoming the tenth man to wear a “C” in franchise history.
Barkov, 23, has been on track to become Panthers captain for several years now. Since being selected second overall in the 2013 draft, the big Finnish center has developed extremely quickly and should now be considered one of the very best two-way players in the entire league. After flirting with big point totals in 2015-16 and 2016-17 but being held back by injury, Barkov finally played in more than 71 games in a season and produced his best season to date. With 78 points in 79 games while receiving Selke votes for the fourth consecutive year, Barkov has laid claim to franchise icon status for the Panthers.
Learning under MacKenzie meanwhile will benefit the young forward, as he was allowed to mature and develop without the pressure of captaincy in his first few years. Barkov released a statement about his biggest influences since arriving in Florida, and all three are extremely well-respected NHL veterans:
This is a tremendous honor and I’m excited to take on the responsibility of being captain. I’ve been fortunate to be able to observe and work with quality leaders and captains like Ed Jovanovski, Willie Mitchell and Derek MacKenzie during my career. I love my teammates, we’re a tight group and there are a lot of strong leaders in our room. I was very happy when Bob and Dale told me that I was going to be captain. It’s a dream come true to see the captain’s ’C’ on my jersey.
MacKenzie, 37, is heading into the last part of his career and though he is still a reliable fourth-line player he can’t have the sort of impact Barkov brings every night. Passing the torch at some point was an inevitability, and one that he apparently did with little prompting.