Aleksander Barkov is the best player in the Florida Panthers' dressing room. And so, it's been no secret that his being designated as that room's official leader was inevitable.
His time has arrived.
Barkov was announced as the 10th captain of the Panthers on Monday, with outgoing captain Derek MacKenzie ceremonially — and willingly — handing the 23-year-old Finnish star his first Florida jersey with a "C'' stitched onto the shoulder. MacKenzie held the job for two years, always knowing that a member of the Panthers' young core would take the role one day.
"Their concern when we first kind of considered me being captain is that this day might come," MacKenzie said. "But that was the least of my concerns."
Barkov is entering his sixth NHL season. He is coming off the best year of his career, with 27 goals and 51 assists for 78 points in 79 games, and he's one of the biggest reasons why Florida believes it is finally on the cusp of becoming a consistent playoff contender.
"I feel like I'm in the right place," Barkov said. "I'm really happy."
He becomes the second-youngest current captain in the NHL, behind only Edmonton's Connor McDavid. Among the other 20 captains in the NHL — not counting Barkov or McDavid, and taking into account that nine teams currently have captain vacancies — the average age is 32.
"He's our best player, game in and game out," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "Nobody works harder off-ice, his preparation is second to none and his attention to detail is second to none. He's just 23 years old. He's an amazing young man."
By Barkov's own admission, he's not much of a talker. But when he does speak, his words resonate among teammates. And MacKenzie, who has indicated that this season may be his last in the NHL, expects to see Barkov wearing the "C'' in Florida for many years.
"I think we're all in a good place right now," MacKenzie said.
The Panthers, who started their preseason schedule with a Monday doubleheader against Nashville, begin their 25th regular season on Oct. 6 at Tampa Bay.