This may not come as a shock to you, but the Florida Panthers haven't been very good this year.
Entering Wednesday's action, the Panthers are eights points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, three games over .500 and have a minus-10 goal differential. The defense has been suspect, the goaltending has been outright awful and the bright spots have been few and far between. However, one thing has become crystal clear for the Panthers: Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau make up one of the best forward pairings in the NHL.
Last season, Panthers coach Bob Boughner split the talented youngsters in order to spread the offense around the lineup. At points, it looked like a genius plan, but scoring became an issue again early in 2018-19 and the dynamic duo was reunited once more. So, how has it gone? In the past seven games, Barkov and Huberdeau have combined for 31 points and have been two of the hottest forwards in March. In a season where Florida has really struggled in their own zone –allowing the fifth-most goals against of any club – Barkov and Huberdeau have cemented themselves as two of the NHL’s top scorers, sitting 12th and 18th in league scoring respectively. Not bad.
Skill has never been an issue for the linemates. Both were first-round picks (Huberdeau third overall in 2011, Barkov second overall in 2013) and have taken turns leading the Panthers in scoring in the past. Whenever one player is having a good game, the other has a big role in it. Take Barkov's five-point effort against Minnesota on March 8, for example. Huberdeau contributed to the output with a four-point night of his own. And while Barkov's slightly better production could suggest he's the one doing most of the work, consider the fact that both players are coming off of career-high offensive outputs last season. Barkov registered 78 points in 2017-18, while Huberdeau found the scoresheet 69 times.
Thanks in part to the duos' production, it won't be long until the Panthers have a new all-time leading scorer. Huberdeau (346 points) sits just 73 points behind Olli Jokinen (419) for first, with Barkov (334) sitting closely behind Huberdeau. Chances are Barkov and Huberdeau will sit one-two by the end of next year at their current points-per-game rate. And the best part? They’re still young, and any winger that lines up with them seems to score, too.
This season, the couple have lined up with Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman as their rotating right-wingers. It doesn’t seem to matter which right-winger Barkov and Huberdeau play with, however. The chemistry is always there. They feed off each other, make one another better and, together, provide the driving force for one of the top lines in the league.
As a team, Florida as a team still has a long way to go. There’s some hope that big center Henrik Borgstrom, scoring winger Owen Tippett, and speedy Aleksi Heponiemi can crack the roster next season and add some youthful glow to a team with the ninth-oldest roster in the league. If the Panthers can then solidify its long-term goalie situation and add a couple of depth players, Florida could be a serious contender with Barkov and Huberdeau leading the way.