NEWARK -- There was a point in time when it seemed like something of a certainty that that Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon would be the first two selections at the NHL Draft, with Jones likely going to the Colorado Avalanche and MacKinnon headed to the Florida Panthers.
Then the Avalanche changed course, telling everyone who would listen that they planned to draft Nathan MacKinnon. It turned out they weren't bluffing, and when the Panthers went up to make the second overall selection, Seth Jones was still on the board. So was Jonathan Drouin.
They left them both there, drafting Finnish centre Aleksander Barkov from Tappara instead.
No doubt they saw some of his Youtube videos.
The pick was something of a stunner, as Barkov was projected to go fourth overall in most mock drafts.
“Dale said he was very interested in me and that maybe he would pick me," said Barkov.
Still, you can see why the Panthers might have decided to grab him sooner: He's a big, skilled centre that spent the last two seasons playing against men in the Finnish Elite League, and 48 points in 53 games this last season is evidence that he was hardly out of place.
Put that sort of size and skill together, along with his apparent readiness to take the next step, and you can see why the Panthers might have become enamoured with Barkov, especially in a league where your strength up the middle often defines your strength overall.
Barkov was pretty into the Panthers as well. Asked why -- if it was the club's youth, or perhaps their talent, he responded, simply, "It's because the Panthers is... NHL team. I have always dreamed of playing in the NHL."
"I have always liked the Panthers," he said.
It's not an empty platitude. The centre has some familiarity with the club. While he's never been to Florida (although he knows there's "very much sun") the first time he ever saw an NHL team play live was when the Panthers visited Tappara for an exhibition game in September of 2009.
"They played against my Dad's team and they lost," Barkov said, referring to his father, former hockey player Aleksander Barkov Sr., who played for Tappara at the time.
Barkov was asked if he was happy the Panthers lost that night.
"Maybe," he said, "but not anymore."