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The Centers of Attention

With Young Centers Barkov and Bjugstad, the Cats are Well Positioned for Next Season and Beyond

Tuesday, 06.10.2014 / 3:53 PM ET / News
By FloridaPanthers.com Staff
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The Centers of Attention
With Young Centers Barkov and Bjugstad, the Cats are Well Positioned for Next Season and Beyond.

12 feet, 9 inches, and 415 pounds comes barreling down the ice.

And that’s not counting the skates and pads.

They may each only have one year of NHL experience under their belts, but the Florida Panthers top two centers look to be bona fide heavyweights, both in skill and stature.

In a league where young talent and talented centers are key ingredients to building championship squads, their presence in the middle of the Cats’ line-up bodes well for the future of the club.

Both Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad had promising rookie campaigns in the 2013-14 NHL season.

The highlights are well-known, and have been oft-repeated, but to provide some summer refreshment:

On October 3, 2013, Barkov became the youngest player to score an NHL goal since 1943, hitting the back of the net in the Cats’ season opener in Dallas

In January, Barkov was named to Finland’s national team for the Sochi Olympics, becoming the youngest player ever named to the squad

In his first full season, Bjugstad led the Panthers in points (16-22-38), shots on goal (185) and game-winning goals (4)

Bjugstad finished fifth in rookie scoring and led all qualifying NHL rookies in face-off percentage (48.9%)

While Barkov’s stat line (8-16-24) was hampered by a knee injury suffered at the Olympics that cut his NHL season to 54 games, he was on pace to put up some impressive rookie numbers. For example:

A full season on his point pace (0.44 PPG) would have translated to a 36-point campaign, placing him well inside the top ten in rookie scoring.

His 288 setup passes (a stat used to estimate the number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot on goal) through 54 games reflected an average of 5.33 setup passes per game. If Barkov maintained that pace for the full 82-game season, he would have finished in the top 50 in the entire NHL. (All advanced stats courtesy of Extraskater.com).

Bjugstad stayed healthy throughout his first full season, playing 76 games. In addition to leading the team in points, #27 led the Cats in both primary assists (13) and primary points (28) in even strength situations. Primary assists are the assists which lead directly to the goal, and primary points represent the sum of goals and primary assists. Many analysts believe primary points offer some insight into how closely a player is involved in the on-ice events that lead to goals being scored.

It is often the case that NHL coaches will “shelter” their rookies, sending them out for favorable matchups against some of the opposition’s relatively weaker lines. This does not appear to have been the case with either Barkov or Bjugstad, each of whom had high quality of competition ratings (above 29%). Despite facing the tough competition, both Barkov (52.1% Fenwick) and Bjugstad (51.1% Fenwick) posted positive possession stats, suggesting that they and their Panthers line-mates were able to generate more shots for then opposed, even when up against tough competition.

In a salary-cap regulated league like the NHL, it is not just stats, but contract terms, that make players valuable to their teams. In the case of both Barkov and Bjugstad, their value to the Panthers’ short-term cap management plans is significant, as each player is still under his respective entry level contract (ELC). Barkov has two years remaining on his ELC while Bjugstad has one year left on his. The league’s collective bargaining agreement limits base salaries for entry level players, providing the Panthers a reward for their astute drafting.

One needs to look no further than the rosters of this season’s Stanley Cup finalists to find entry-level forwards making valuable contributions. The Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers have been helped in their run by the play rookie of center Chris Kreider, who was on a point-per-game pace (10/10) heading into the Final. Similarly, the Western Conference champion LA Kings have relied on rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli (25 combined points through the first 3 rounds). All players are currently playing under ELCs.

How far the Panthers will go in the years to come will depend on the full roster of players that call the BB&T Center home. But with Barkov and Bjugstad slotted in the middle, and with their best days well in front of them, there are certainly some big reasons for optimism in Sunrise.

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 74 47 20 7 226 172 101
2 MTL 75 46 21 8 197 167 100
3 TBL 76 46 23 7 244 198 99
4 PIT 75 41 23 11 207 188 93
5 NYI 76 44 27 5 230 211 93
6 DET 74 40 22 12 216 201 92
7 WSH 75 40 25 10 218 186 90
8 BOS 75 37 25 13 199 195 87
9 OTT 73 37 25 11 213 195 85
10 FLA 74 34 26 14 184 202 82
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 74 35 35 4 203 230 74
13 NJD 74 31 31 12 166 189 74
14 CAR 73 27 36 10 170 201 64
15 TOR 75 27 42 6 194 241 60
16 BUF 74 20 46 8 141 249 48

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Huberdeau 71 13 32 7 45
N. Bjugstad 72 24 19 -7 43
J. Jokinen 73 7 33 -1 40
J. Jagr 69 13 25 -4 38
B. Boyes 72 12 23 10 35
A. Ekblad 73 11 24 10 35
J. Hayes 64 18 13 -4 31
A. Barkov 63 12 17 -2 29
B. Campbell 74 3 21 1 24
B. Pirri 41 20 2 5 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 26 17 11 .922 2.32
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08
 
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