Saturday, January 25, 2020

Aleksander Barkov Autographed Card

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced earlier today that next season's All-Star Game will be hosted by the Florida Panthers and will have an "international taste", possibly with a link towards whether or not the league will allow its players to participate in the next Olympics in China.

The Panthers themselves are a very international team, currently with five players on pace to top the 60-point mark that hail from different regions of the globe: Jonathan Huberdeau (Montréal, Québec), young captain Aleksander Barkov (Finnish with a Russian father), Evgeny Dadonov (Russia), Mike Hoffman (from Kitchener, Ontario, a city that used to be called New Berlin), and Keith Yandle (from Boston, Massachusetts, USA). And although he's having a sub-par season, they also have the only active two-time Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes, Russian Sergei Bobrovsky, who could very well bounce back next year.

Coached by Joel Quenneville - one of the three best bench bosses in the game and the only active three-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach - the Panthers are currently in a playoff position with a 28-16-5 record in 49 games, good for 61 points, 4 ahead of the chasing Toronto Maple Leafs and just 1 behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a game in hand over their state rivals.

The Cats' top line of Huberdeau-Barkov-Dadonov doesn't get spoken about as often as the Boston Bruins' power trio (David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand) or the Colorado Avalanche's three superstars (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog) or even the Edmonton Oilers' unparalleled domination when pairing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they're just as effective and almost as dominant.

With the rest of the team factoring in with a group effort and following Quenneville's system closely, it almost doesn't even matter that Bobrovsky's GAA currently stands at 3.24 and save percentage is a shocking .898 - still better than backup Samuel Montembeault's 3.35 and .888, considering both have winning records, Bob's standing at 19-12-4 while Montembault's fine at 4-2-1.

But mostly, I really like the bond Huberdeau and Barkov have created, dating back to the end of the 2014-15 season when they were paired with Jaromir Jagr. He instilled both an acute sense of professionalism into their young spirits yet had them remember that the beauty of professional sports is that they get to make a living doing something they love and that people love to watch them do. It seemed to be what they needed to reach the next level, and their points totals have steadily increased ever since, culminating in both players topping the 90-point mark last season, with Barkov's 96 points slightly ahead of Huberdeau's 92, while this year, it's the Quebecer leading the race, 65 to 54.

Both are also good autograph signers, and Barkov was kind enough to autograph this card of his wearing the Panthers' beautiful red (home) 2011-16 uniform in thin blue sharpie, with his number (16) tagged at the end:
It's #83 in Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set, and although it shows him wearing the Panthers' 20th Anniversary patch from his rookie season, it does not count as a rookie card because UD included a Young Guns card of his in its Series 2 set the previous year.

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