Barkov is an ace at keeping the puck alive offensively

Barkov is an ace at keeping the puck alive offensively

Through his first 28 games played in his second season, Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov looked to be mired in an incredible sophomore slump with just a measly two goals, yet in terms of his possession metrics, he looked like a rock star.

However down the stretch, Barkov broke out of that slump in a big way, scoring 14 goals in his final 43 games, a nearly 27 goal pace, and showed flashes of the special player he will become. One of the ways Barkov was able to not only create his own offence, but offensive opportunities for his team, was his defensive ability in the offensive zone.

Barkov defense

Barkov took part in the most defensive events per minute in the offensive zone of any forward in the NHL that we’ve tracked, defensive events meaning plays to strip puck possession from the opponent, including stick checks, body checks, and pass blocks.

When hockey people talk about a player being disruptive on the forecheck, this is the kind of statistic that would give a rough measurement of a player’s effectiveness in that way. Barkov’s 73% success rate on defensive plays in the offensive zone (10 percentage points above league average) allowed him to have more successful defensive plays per 20 minutes in the offensive zone than the average NHL forward has defensive attempts on the puck at all.

Barkov’s ability to stop opponents from exiting their defensive zone creates more offensive zone time for his linemates, more shot attempts, and more scoring chances, however the Panthers didn’t take advantage of his talent to the fullest last season.

Barkov’s two most common linemates were Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes, and the line itself was very good, as all three are good players, but neither Huberdeau or Boyes are particularly efficient at loose puck recoveries, meaning that while Barkov is creating havoc and causing opponents to turn the puck over, no one can be relied upon at a high level to get that loose puck.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, their most efficient loose puck retriever last season was Nick Bjugstad, the centre they want on the line Barkov isn’t running. No other forwards on the Panthers stood out particularly in recovering loose pucks, but the player the Panthers eventually replace Boyes with on that Barkov-Huberdeau line should be someone who has the speed and instincts to get those loose pucks, and the ability to distribute them quickly. If the Panthers are able to find that player, watch out for that line.

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