USATSI_9054879_154158418_lowresThe Florida Panthers have signed centre Aleksander Barkov to a six-year contract extension worth $35.4 million. The team made the announcement on Monday.

Barkov was drafted by the Panthers second overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. In 163 career games with the Panthers, the 20-year-old Finnish-born forward has 90 points.

Born in Finland, Barkov is the son of Aleksander Barkov, Sr. – a Russian skater playing for the SM-liiga’s Tappara at the time of his birth. The younger Barkov also played for SM-liiga, becoming the youngest-ever player in the league to score a point. He went on to become the youngest Finnish player at the IIHF World U20 Championship and scored a goal at the age of 16 years and four months, becoming the second youngest to score at the tournament.

That youth and exuberance has served him well at the NHL level, too, and he’s one of the best players on the Panthers’ roster. He became the youngest player since league expansion in 1967 to score a goal in the big leagues when he potted one against Kari Lehtonen in October of 2013. He was 18 years and 31 days, a day shy of the previous record holder Jordan Staal.

As good as Barkov can be when he has the puck, it’s his ability without it that’s been turning heads in Florida.

“I always compare Barkov to (Chicago Blackhawks winger) Marian Hossa, a great two-way player,” said Florida coach Gerard Gallant. “Some nights (Barkov) will show us some unbelievable skill moves, and on nights when he’s not as good offensively, he doesn’t make any mistakes defensively. For a 20-year-old to be that big and strong and capable, it’s incredible.

Barkov has been ironing out his checking prowess since he laced the skates in the first place and now he’s good enough to hold Florida’s top line with Jonathan Huberdeau and ageless veteran Jaromir Jagr. At 6’3, 213 pounds, the left-hand shot is poised and primed to be a top-line guy for years to come.

Huberdeau currently leads the club in scoring with 34 points in 48 games, while Jagr has 33 points in 45 games.

And that’s meant great things for the Panthers, as they hold the top spot in the Atlantic Division with a 28-15-5 record. In large part due to the strength of that lead-off unit, they have the second-most points in the Eastern Conference and look set to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-2012.

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