Aleksander Barkov is an incredibly effective hockey player.
He’s scores at a point-a-game pace, he plays more ice time than any forward, he leads the league in penalties drawn without going to the box once. He’s dynamite on the power play and the penalty kill.
While all of this is true, the “Hey guys, did you know how good Barkov is?” storyline is pretty tired at this point. It also sucks up all the air surrounding the Florida Panthers, because the hockey world only really has time for one narrative for a team with an ugly record in a dubious market.
That’s a shame, though, because there are more positive things going on in Florida than their top centre’s existence. One of them being Evgeni Dadonov.
On Tuesday night, Dadonov scored two goals and added an assist to give him 33 points for the season, tying him with Barkov and putting him ahead of guys like Taylor Hall, Jonathan Toews and Tyler Seguin. Since he rejoined the NHL last year after spending five seasons in the KHL, he’s got 98 points to his name — tied for 44th in the league. That puts him two points behind Patrik Laine (with a better points-per-game average) and two in front of Dylan Larkin. Pretty good company.
Dadonov is an interesting story as a former third-round pick who struggled in his first go in the NHL, spent five years in exile producing at a solid-but-unspectacular rate (0.77 ppg) in Russia, then exploded back onto the scene in his late twenties.
Now 29, the winger is producing offensively and driving play with strong possession numbers despite the fact he’s skating with the underwhelming duo of Frank Vatrano and Henrik Borgstrom at even strength right now. Dadonov has also been extraordinarily consistent. He’s only gone without a point in six games this year and only two of those contests were consecutive.
Beyond that, he’s downright fun to watch, and when you turn on the film you see there are a few things that make him special:
Dadonov isn’t a world-class burner, but he’s undoubtedly fast and dangerous on the rush. That much was obvious on Tuesday when he earned himself a penalty shot by picking Rasmus Dahlin’s pocket and skating away from him.
That penalty shot resulted in the following goal, which is included here not because it demonstrates Dadonov’s skill, but rather because it’s amusingly greasy:
Poor Carter Hutton.
Anyhow, Dadonov’s speed has applications beyond coast-to-coast rushes. He also has short area burst. He demonstrated that against the Sabres as well on a play where he left Rasmus Ristolainen in his dust behind the net and got a dangerous shot off that led to a Vatrano goal.
Usually the shot on goal is the cheapest form of primary assist, but in this case Dadonov creates the entire offensive attack off a faceoff win.
Many of Dadonov’s assists are of the very pretty variety. He has 54 helpers to his name since his NHL return, but one thing that stands out is his ability to both see teammates through traffic, and get them the puck.
In just the second game of the season, the Russian winger had two such apples setting up both Barkov and Nick Bjugstad for their first goals of the year.
On the first to Barkov, Dadonov comes in on the rush with speed, stops up at the perfect time to tie the Blue Jackets in knots, and puts the puck on the stick of the initially-trailing Barkov.
With the overhead shot the play looks far easier than it is. For the majority of Dadonov’s rush he’s got three men between him and his target and he finds his seam before they come together in an embarrassing clump.
On Bjugstad’s tally, Dadonov receives a slap pass and finds a lane instantly despite a buzz of Columbus bodies.
There’s very little margin for error here with four Blue Jackets close enough to make an impact on the play. Dadonov also has to kick the puck to his stick perfectly to make it work.
Part of the reason the former KHLer is such a prominent piece on Florida’s power play is his ability to do things like that.
When we talk about X-factors for special offensive players in the NHL, hand-eye coordination is often under-discussed. The difference between a fast player with hockey sense and a guy who you can count on in your top six is often the ability to make things happen with unorthodox stick work and crafty re-directions.
Dadonov is no Joe Pavelski, but he does tend to play close to the net from the slot on the power play and he’s been known to put one in on a tip like he does here against the Anaheim Ducks.
That slow-motion angle captures Dadonov’s masterful deflection perfectly. You can’t do it much better than that.
The single play that best encapsulates his excellence in this area came on a neutral zone play against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In no time at all, Dadonov bats down a dump out, makes a spinning backhand and then dives to push the puck ahead, setting up Vatrano for a goal. Each element of that play is something that few guys would pull off, his ability to do them all consecutively is pretty damn impressive.
Ultimately, Evgeni Dadonov is not a player who’s likely to bring home any individual hardware or change the direction of a franchise. He is, however, very very good and greatly under-appreciated, making one inclined to believe he’d be much celebrated if he played in another market.
Of course, that’s not nearly enough to justify watching more Panthers hockey than you absolutely have to, but if the chronic underachievers find themselves playing your preferred team you might want to pay a little extra attention to No. 63.