Florida Panthers left wing Sean Bergenheim (20) celebrates with teammate Aleksander Barkov after scoring a goal during a game against Montreal. Since Dec. 10, the line of Bergenheim, Barkov and Brad Boyes has 15 goals, 15 assists and four shootout goals.
SUNRISE, Fla. — Sean Bergenheim caught a glimpse of the Florida Panthers’ future before anyone else.
Skating in the Finnish Elite League during the lockout in October 2012, the winger’s HIFK Helsinki squad prepared to face off against Ilves Tampere. Bergenheim’s teammates kept raving about this kid, Aleksander Barkov.
”I hadn’t heard of him before that,” Bergenheim said. ”People told me about him and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s going to be fun to see this guy play.’ And then when I saw him, I thought, ‘This guy can’t be 17 years old.’ He might have even been (16).”
Bergenheim’s first instinct was correct. When the two played against each other, Barkov was 17 — by a month.
Although Bergenheim missed the rest of the Elite League and NHL seasons with multiple ailments, he tracked the progress of the young Finn. Barkov finished ninth in scoring. Months later, Florida GM Dale Tallon selected the pivot with the second overall pick.
”When we drafted him, I knew right away that’s a really good draft pick for us,” Bergenheim said. ”I think as a team we needed a center. All I can say is, I thought it was a brilliant pick.”
What Bergenheim could not forsee is that he, alongside veteran Brad Boyes, would be playing with Barkov this season on Florida’s hottest line.
After a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 27, Panthers coach Peter Horachek shuffled his lineup. That’s when the trio came together. There wasn’t much production to start, but Horachek stuck with the group as they continued to generate scoring chances.
”A lot of times you don’t want to have the same kind of player (on a line),” Horachek said. ”That’s what probably goes into it. You might want to say you have some size or grit on a line. You have someone who can distribute one way or another.”
In that regard, Horachek came up with exactly the right combination.
Since Dec. 10, Bergenheim, Barkov and Boyes have combined for 15 goals, 15 assists and four shootout goals. In the 13 games during that stretch, the trio has been kept off the scoresheet just twice.
”In the beginning, we didn’t get that many points, me or Barky or Boysie,” Bergenheim said. ”But we had the chances all along. Now we’re scoring more. That’s what we’ve got to be doing, putting the puck in the net. The chances have been there, we’ve just got to continue to do that and I think the more we play together, the better we’re going to be.”
The B-Line. The Killer B’s. The Finnish Boys.
The shy, quiet Barkov listens intently and gives his opinion on each. He likes them all. But the rookie is more concerned about what he and his linemates are doing on the scoresheet rather than the labels given to them in print.
”I think we’re working very hard and we’re playing like we have to play,” Barkov said. ”We know each other. I know what Bergy’s going to do. I know what Boysie’s going to do. So its very easy to play.”
What makes the trio so effective is their high level of energy in the offensive zone. Bergenheim, described by Horachek as a ”bull in a china shop,” is the spark plug, grinding along the boards in order to get the puck to his linemates.
If the puck lands on Barkov’s stick, the rookie playmaker has two formidable scoring threats in the fellow Finn or Boyes. If it is Boyes who ends up with the puck, the quick shot can take advantage of chaos in front of the net generated by the 6-foot-3 Barkov or speedy Bergenheim.
”He’s good,” Boyes said of Bergenheim. ”He’s very predictable in where he’s going to be and what he’s going to do. He’s kind of a little wrecking ball.”
The veteran also has positive words for Barkov, a recent selection to the Finnish Olympic team and Florida’s points leader with 22.
”He’s very responsible,” Boyes added. ”That’s something that’s tough as a young centerman. At both ends of the ice, he plays very strong. Again, being a young kid and playing as much as we do, for him to be consistent every night, that’s something that is commendable.”
Barkov credits his teammates for helping him settle down in North America and adjust to the NHL game.
”I had a couple games at the beginning of the season for adjustment,” Barkov said. ”I think I feel very comfortable. It’s very easy to be off ice.
”And on-ice, (I have a) very nice place on this team. They help me out very much.”
Part of that assistance is constant communication with Bergenheim in Finnish on the bench.
”Lines sometimes come together with chemistry and the fact they can communicate so well — they can communicate in English if they want,” Horachek said. ”I think it helps that they have a common bond with that and it certainly makes (Barkov) comfortable. I know they talk a lot. They talk on the bench about what just happened, what they want to do.”
There’s only one problem: Barkov, although fluent in three languages, admits he’s still working on his English. And the Canadian-born Boyes does not know a word of Finnish. Once again, being the catalyst falls to Bergenheim.
”I say ‘Speak English’ so I can hear,” Boyes said. ”Age has to come for something so I should be able to tell them that. But they don’t always listen.”
What the trio has communicated on ice is all that really concerns the Panthers. No words are necessary.