Flames First Round Targets 2013: Aleksandr Barkov


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pic via Mika Kylmaniemi

Although guys like Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones are probably out of reach for the Flames, there is an outside possibility a probable elite talent in Aleksandr Barkov falls to Calgary at 6th in June.

The native Fin with a Russian name has been on hockey’s radar for a long time and it became especially apparent he was a special player last year when he was one of the highest scoring teens in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga) at just 16 years old. Most kids are just learning to drive at that age, but Barkov scored at 0.5 PPG pace in one of the best pro leagues on the planet.

To put that achievement in perspective, Barkov’s pace was the fifth best amongst teens in the league that year, behind only Mikael Granlund, Markus Granlund, Joel Armia and Teemu Pulkkinen and all of those guys were at least 2-3 years older.

Of course, we wouldn’t be talking too much about his rookie year if the 6’2" center didn’t follow it up with his remarkable sophomore effort. This year Barkov scored 48 points in 53 games for Tappara Tampere, good for second on the team behind for Flame Ville Nieminen who had 50 points – albeit in 4 more games played. Barkov also placed 9th overall in the league in both goals (21) and overall scoring. Keep in mind Barkov is actually one of the youngest available draftees this summer, with a September 2, 1995 birthday. He’s almost a full year younger than Mark Jankowski (Sept. 13, 1994) and Janko was the youngest guy drafted last June.

So yeah…the kid is good.

The Scouting Reports

Barkov has had a lot of eyeballs watching him the last few years, so the scouting reports tend to be in sync much of the time. Corey Pronman sums up the consensus pretty well over at Hockey Prospectus (where he ranked Barkov the 5th best prospect available):

Barkov is one of the greatest NHL Entry Draft prospects to ever come out of Finland. He is a tremendously advanced player, with elite hockey sense. He regularly logged 20 minutes this season, which is rare for a September-born 17-year-old in Finland’s top league. He has an incredible amount of patience, vision, and awareness. He can slow the game down and dictate the tempo, as well as be the focal point on the power play. He also has a high level of defensive skill, showing ability at a very young age to be a quality defensive center. He has good technique on faceoffs, as he keeps his hands low, pulling pucks back quickly.

Despite having good puck skills, he is not a player who will consistently try to stickhandle around players. He is selective, but he has the talent to create offense out of nothing. Barkov is a big, strong player. He will not crash and bang, but he protects the puck well. His skating is a tick below average. It is possible he could improve to an average skater, but his game will not be predicated on blazing past defenders. When bringing the puck out of his zone, he tends to prefer making a good pass rather than rushing the puck up.

For a first hand account of Barkov, I contacted Matias Strozyk of Eliteprospects. He provided this great account:

Apart from Mikael Granlund, Finland hasn’t seen a prospect of Barkov’s level in recent years. I’d say it’s even a pretty close call between those two and you lean towards one or the other based on what you’re looking for. Granlund has flair, soft hands and amazing creativity. Barkov has very good two-way play, a better frame and the strength to go along with it.

Finnish prospects from recent years tend to be on the diminutive size and Barkov is a very welcomed exception. He doesn’t use his size to deliver big hits but protects the puck well and wins battles – partly thanks to his talent with the puck.

Barkov was only 17 years old this past Finnish league season, his first full season with the pros but still became a key player for an eventual silver-medalist. Like last year, he missed some time at the end of the season, on this occasion due to a shoulder injury. Tappara were missing another top 6 forward as well and it’s not wrong to think it was a crucial point of the final series, which they lost in six games. The fact that a 17-year-old being sidelined was a potentially decisive factor in the Finnish league championship series sums up a lot. What’s even more impressive is that Barkov finished 9th in the league in scoring and recorded an average ice-time of 19:31 in 53 games – this during a season were he also racked up a few gruelling miles with the U20 national team.

Barkov has exceptional hockey IQ, creativity and vision, while his defensive skills are far better than Granlund’s. He steals a lot of pucks and is hard to take the puck away from thanks to top notch stickhandling and great ability to protect the puck with his body. His biggest weakness is his skating, which I’m sure will improve over the next couple of years. To be honest, I think issues with his skating has even been a bit exaggerated – it’s not technically perfect and definitely not beautiful, yet powerful and surprisingly effective. Barkov has two special advantages that few Finnish prospects get to enjoy: his father and his winger.

Aleksander Barkov sr. is a coach, most notably in the KHL, and a former elite player who certainly pushes him forward. A similar, if not an even bigger boost is provided by Ville Nieminen, who I’m sure most Flames fans are already somewhat acquainted with. Nieminen spent this past season playing in a line with Barkov and Henrik Haapala, another young prospect and took Barkov under his wings. They’re work-father – work-son type of relationship actually generated a now-popular quote from Barkov following a goal: "Nieminen once said that if you want to get a pizza, go to a pizzeria. If you want to get a goal, go to the net. So I went to the net."

As an overall package, it’s hard to find a prospect of Barkov’s calibre from the draft. I think he’s unlikely to crack the top 3 and Elias Lindholm, maybe even Valeri Nichushkin could end up going ahead of him, but it would be shocking to see him miss the top 10. Barkov is already an elite center for the Finnish league with A) very good finishing, B) very good playmaking and C) very good two-way play. Plus, he’s already got the size and will only get better in everything else, including skating. How often do you stumble upon something like that?

To sum up: Barkov is big, strong, has excellent playmaking and offensive skills and is already a complete, two-way pivot. His only "weakness" seems to be skating, in that he isn’t blazingly fast.

Usually with kids of this age you have a couple of notable areas of strengths and the big question marks are if they will be able to translate their success against grown men and if they can develop a good enough all around game to be useful at the NHL level. Those don’t seem to be concerns with Barkov.

The Numbers

We have already established that Barkov has one of the best NHL equivalencies (NHLE) of this draft class at about 40. Typically any player garnering a 40+ NHLE in their draft year is a future high-end guy in the NHL, with a few rare exceptions. Given the difficulty of his league and the fact he was a key player on a pro team, we can assume Barkov wasn’t riding coattails or enjoying an unusually easy role to garner his offensive totals.

Jonathan Willis of OilersNation and Cult of Hockey did some leg work on Barkov in April and established he is perhaps the best Nordic prospect to arrive on the scene since Peter Forsberg:

Going strictly by the numbers, even at fourth overall (his expected draft position) Aleksander Barkov might be a steal of a deal. An analysis of first round picks out of the top men’s leagues in Sweden and Finland since 1990 shows that only Peter Forsberg can layclaim to a superior season at the same age.

At first, it looks like Barkov performs very well but trails three players – Forsberg and the Sedin twins. However, because the NHL draft cut-off is September 15, the comparison to the Sedins is misleading – with a September 2 birthday, Barkov is at the youngest end of his draft group, while with a September 26 birthday the Sedins were at the oldest end of theirs. In other words, the Sedins are three weeks short of being a full year older than Barkov at the time of these statistics, and so the proper comparison between Barkov and the Sedins is Barkov’s draft year versus the Sedins’ pre-draft season. At the same age as Barkov, Daniel Sedin recorded 13 points in 45 games in the Elitserien; Henrik Sedin recorded five points in 39 contests.


Barkov represents everything the Flames want and need, both now and going forward: a big, strong center with offensive ability and two-way ability. Because he is already a high-end player at both ends of the ice, Barkov is a good bet to develop into the sort of pivot who can both score and drive possession at the NHL level. That’s the sort of player one builds a contender around.

In many other drafts, Barkov would likely be in the conversation for first overall pick. It goes to show how dense the talent is at the top end this year that the big Fin might fall outside of the top-5. If he does and the Flames have the chance to take him at 6th overall when they walk up to the podium in New Jersey, they would be fools to pass on him.

Flames First Round Targets

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  • Jeff Lebowski

    Could Barkov end up top 3? Who falls then?

    When you look at the teams above Calgary, how many are truly rebuilding? How many really need to win now due to respective markets and were poised to if not for injuries (Florida, Nashville – need to pay Weber)?

    Perhaps there are roster players on Calgary that would entice a trade down for them if it instantly upgrades their NHL roster- given cap considerations?

    Murray’s playoffs soon decree just pisses me off because our ‘good’ roster pieces might not move for longer development drafted kids.

    Anyhow, those teams ahead still get a first rounder (just not 6) plus an immediate help to get them back in playoffs and in the money.

    The obvious candidates are Gio and/or Glencross +/- STL pick.

    Calgary gets top 4, 6th, late round. Maybe Flames even pick up a second in a package.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Dreaming! I also hopes the rain turns to skittles and I win the lottomax.

      Any talk of St Louis pick turning into Barkov AND keeping our 6th is crazy talk…. The 6th would have to be part of a trade up. I just don’t see any package of any player on our roster (not including Backs or Sven) that could get it done.

      Would you trade our 6th pick down into the 2nd round? That’s essentially what you are asking one of the top 4 to do. Even that may not be comparable because those top 4 picks are just WAY more valuable.

      Those wins down the stretch sure weren’t worth it!

      I really hope Feaster can move us up and gave Barkov

      • Jeff Lebowski

        The point was trading the 4th for an established NHLer plus a first rounder. Those teams that need to make hay now would want a sure roster player plus they keep a first round pick.

        Some teams windows are too short for teenagers to be ready to push them over top.

        Nashville competes with STL, CHI etc. they need playoff years for the owner and the fact their good players only have so many good years or manageable contracts. Ie win now.

        So it’s not trade to second round, it’s trade for Gio and/ or Glencross and a first rounder.

        • T&A4Flames

          Cammi at $4mil and the STL pick should be enough and we could possibly get a 2nd or at least a 3rd with it. I agree that teams like NSH need to win some PO games now to take take advantage of prime years of their stars. CAR and possibly even TBL may feel the same way.

          Best of both worlds really, get an established NHL scorer and still a 1st rnd’r in a deep draft. I would have talks with all 3 of those teams and trades in place to execute at a moments notice should Barkov be there at any point.

  • loudogYYC

    This is the kid I’ve been hoping the Flames could land. I really, really hope someone takes Nicushkin ahead of us and one of either Lindholm or Nurse too. Barkov and Tanguay would be great together.

  • loudogYYC

    I likey a lot, especially the part about being a strong 2-way player on top of his strong offensive and NHLE numbers. I say swing for the fence and try and work a deal with Nashville rather than chance him dropping to 6.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Of all thus year’s draft eligible players, this guy is probably the best player *right now*. He also happens to be one of the youngest. I’d honestly take him 1st overall if I had the choice…
    but I’m just some chump who’s never seen any of the top 10 projected draft picks play live.

  • RexLibris

    Based on past performance (specifically trying to trade up to get Grigorenko last year) I fully expect that Feaster will be making Nashville and Tampa Bay the best offer he feels he can in order to try and get this young player.

    I don’t know that it will be enough to entice them as most of the teams in that draft range could use a big elite-level center as much as the Flames. In fact, there may only be one team in the league that could look at their depth chart and say “no thank you” (Pittsburgh).

    Wherever this young man goes I do suspect that a re-draft five or ten years down the road will have people still arguing over who ought to have gone where.

  • Purple Hazze

    The only way I see Nashville passing on him is by taking Lindholm, if that’s the case then we should be very cautious of Edmonton trying to sneak in there and swap picks with the Canes in order to steal Barkov from right under our noses.

  • piscera.infada

    I have serious emotional problems attached to Barkov. I want him horribly, he is the exact player the Flames need to draft. I also don’t want them to go crazy in an attempt to move up (if they even can). It really sucks.

  • Lordmork

    Assuming Kipper retires, I’d love to get Barkov as our token Finn, and also to join our B squad. If we were to trade up to get any player, he would be my choice, but I suppose it depends on how much it would cost us. I hope we’re at least approaching Nashville about the possibility, because if we expect a player like him to drop to 6th, we will most likely be disappointed.

    I dream of a world where we could trade something other than our 1st to get Nashville’s 1st, but that would almost certainly cost most than I’d be willing to pay.

    • piscera.infada

      The only way I see it happening is if they are really high on Lindholm or Monahan. If so, they could trade back to 6th for a fairly modest price – at least they get something out of it, right?

      • Lordmork

        I guess we can hope! I like the idea of not having to sacrifice too much in order to get Barkov. I really hope we’re able to restock our prospect pool this year.

        • piscera.infada

          In reality, the NFL draft is too fresh in my memory. I know this isn’t really how the NHL draft works, but it’s not an unreasonable scenario if Nashville really loves one of the guys that will be available at #6 – they don’t have to make a deal with the devil, and they get a little something something out of it.

  • schevvy

    Barkov would be great, but there’s very little chance he falls to 6. So, I think that Feaster should definitely try and move up, as long as he doesn’t sacrifice any of the killer B’s to do it. This is the exact kind of player the Flames (and almost any other team) need.

    Related: Ville Niemenen is awesome. Feaster should bring him in as well.

  • Craig

    I like Barkov so much that I don’t like focusing any hope or attention on him because I know that I am going to be crushed when he goes 4th overall.

    The best part about this is that he played on a line with Ville Niemenen who was my favourite player during the cup run. I really hope that he plants a couple thoughts of Calgary into Barkov’s ear. Not that that would help us draft him…

    To move up to take Barkov we would need to give up a very good asset, we might be able to sell on 6th, 22nd and Gaudreau, maybe they want a roster player instead. This is a very steep price and we would need to be sure that Barkov is worth that much more than Lindholm, which I’m not so certain. But if Barkov is generational talent, to Lindholm’s elite talent, then it is worth it.

    • Lordmork

      No way would we ever do that. Nichuskin is considered to be even more valuable than Barkov, and Lindholm is barely behind. It should only take Pittsburgh’s pick and our own pick at the most. Anything more than that is ridiculous. If we were talking about top 3 that would be different.

      • Craig

        I wouldn’t say Nichuskin is considered more valuable, there’s a chance that he may be better, but there are a lot of risks with him involved.

        First off I would love for the price to be the two picks to move up, but it’s simply not enough.

        Second Barkov is top three talent, and potentially would be first overall talent in another draft year. One thing that isn’t given nearly enough consideration is his age, look at those comparisons with the sedins. Crazy stuff.

        I’m not saying it’s worth it for the flames, but in order to move up into a spot to grab a player like this, we would have to spend.

        • I understand your position, but Carolina and Tampa have both expressed interest and Nichuskin has said that he wants to play in NA and would terminate his contract to do so. There’s always risk but he looks like a Malkin. Which is why I think Tampa might take him. I’m just saying the value you’re getting from Barkov, Lindholm, and Nichuskin are all very close even though they don’t play similarly. The difference in between someone like Lindholm at 6 and Barkov at 4 shouldn’t be worth more than one late round prospect.