NEWARK – While Canada’s Nathan MacKinnon was a predictable “winner” of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Aleksander Barkov was the surprising second overall selection. No Finnish skater has ever been selected higher. The 18-year-old now has the possibility of joining the Florida Panthers by next season.
It was a marathon draft at New Jersey Devils’ Prudential Center in the city of Newark, a 40-minute drive from Manhattan. Due to the shortened NHL season, all seven rounds were compressed into one day.
When Swede Robin Press was picked by Chicago with the 211th and last selection, the draft finally concluded seven hours and two minutes after the Colorado Avalanche made Canadian World Junior performer Nathan MacKinnon the top pick of the draft. Only the first round took two hours on a hot and humid day in New Jersey.
The selection of MacKinnon was no surprise as the Avs’ management was very transparent with what they planned to do. What is more remarkable is that Halifax’s suburban community of Cole Harbour, with a population of 25,000, now boasts two NHL first overall draft choices. The other, of course, is Sydney Crosby, in 2005. To make things even better, MacKinnon’s and Crosby’s houses are a few blocks from each other.
With Colorado’s commitment to MacKinnon, most observers had USA defenceman Seth Jones slotted in as No. 2, so it was quite a revelation when Florida’s general manager Dale Tallon announced that the Panthers took Aleksander Barkov from Tappara.
With this selection Barkov became the highest NHL-drafted Finnish skater. Goalie Kari Lehtonen (now with Dallas) was also taken second overall, in 2002. As you can almost tell by his name, Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov is an interesting story.
His father, Alexander with an x, was a three-time Soviet IIHF World Championship player in the '90s before he moved to Finland and played his ten last seasons for Tappara Tampere in the Finnish league. The elder Barkov retired in 2004.
Apart from his physical talents, Aleksander is fluent in Finnish, Russian and English. But it wasn’t because of his linguistic fluency that the perennially struggling Panthers staked their future in the Russian Finn. In short, Aleksander Barkov could be one of the best forwards to come out of the Finnish development system.
Few know Barkov better than Göran Stubb, the Finn who is the director of NHL’s European scouting.
“He was only 17 when he played with men against men in the Finnish pro league with Tappara,” said Stubb. “So at 18, he has already two seasons as a pro behind him.”
“He is not only amazingly mature, but he has helped his 36-year-old winger Ville Nieminen (358 NHL games) to reach 50 points in one season for the first time. Nieminen would not have done that without Barkov,” said Stubb.
“Aleksander is a complete two-way player who can score in all possible ways. He never plays a bad game. His only weakness is that he may lack explosive first strides.”
Last season, Barkov had 21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points in 53 games in the Finnish SM-liiga, quite amazing stats for an 18-year-old. He also had seven points in six games for Finland in the IIHF World Juniors in Ufa, Russia.
The big question now is: Where will Barkov play next season? Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon said his team needs immediate help and that he would like to see the Tampere native in Florida already next season. Aleksander wouldn’t mind.
“My goal is to play in the NHL this coming fall,” said Aleksander surrounded by a major media contingent minutes after Florida made him their “property”.
“But that also depends on my shoulder. I am rehabilitating it, it feels better but we will have to wait and see. But I am looking forward to play with Sean (Bergenheim). It feels good that there is already a Finn in Florida. He is a good player whom I have seen a lot.”
Aleksander is convinced that his two years in the Finnish league have been good for his development:
“Having played against men for two seasons in a very good league has been helped me a lot. It has also made me stronger.”
- As in the seven last drafts, Swedes – with 25 prospects – were the most attractive European contingent among the 30 NHL teams. Canada topped with 97, followed by the U.S. with 56. Rest: Finland 11, Russia 8, Switzerland, Slovakia 4 each, Czech Republic 3, Norway, Denmark and Latvia with one each.
- 25 Swedes were the second most for the country. A record 28 Swedes were drafted in 2011.
- No Czech players were picked from domestic teams. The three selected Czechs are all playing Canadian junior. Three is also the lowest since 2009.
- Marko Dano is the first Slovak first-rounder (by Columbus 27th overall) since Marek Zagrapan (by Buffalo 13th) in 2005. Zagrapan never played an NHL game. Last year no Slovaks were drafted.
- Four selected players was the most for Switzerland since 2004.
- For the second straight year, no German players were drafted.
- New Jersey Devils icon Martin Brodeur was allowed to announce the selection of his son Anthony, also a goalie, with the Devlis’ last pick, 208th overall.
- Almost 60 percent of all drafted players, never get to play one NHL game.