Roberto Luongo gave one of his young teammates the highest form of praise Thursday.
The Florida Panthers goaltender compared 19-year-old centre Aleksander Barkov to Pavel Datsyuk — a talent so revered, Siri acknowledges him as the “Magic Man.”
“Somebody that flies under the radar a bit is Barkov. He reminds me a lot of Pavel Datsyuk, the way he skates and handles the puck and takes away the puck from other players,” Luongo told Hockey Central at Noon Friday. “I don’t think he knows how good he is still.”
The 15-season NHL veteran went on to praise the sophomore forward’s ability to take away pucks. Luongo is impressed with how strong the six-foot-three teenager is on his stick.
The second overall pick of the 2013 draft, Barkov has 12 goals and 14 assists this season and leads all Florida centres in ice time. In 2013-14, when GM Dale Tallon announced a fire sale during the team’s tumble down the standings, he mentioned Barkov as the Panthers’ only untouchable.
“Once he figures out that he can be one of the best in the league,” Luongo said, “it’s going to be pretty scary.”
Returning from injury, Luongo and the Panthers came up with an important victory Thursday night versus the Red Wings and have pulled within five points of the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card slot in the East. Of course, Florida must leap-frog the Ottawa Senators, who hold a game in hand, if they are to rally into the post-season.
But the opportunity is there: three of Florida’s remaining games are against Boston and one is in Ottawa.
After two weeks off nursing his shoulder injury, Luongo said he’s well-rested and prepared to start in each of the club’s final 11 games — even though the Cats’ schedule includes two back-to-backs.
“Especially the first back-to-back, Montreal-Ottawa, those are going to be two huge games for our club, so I definitely want to play both of those,” he said. “We’re still on the outside looking in.
“The thing is, now we’ve got to catch two teams instead of one.”