The latest on Aleksander Barkov as he returns to Panthers’ practice after knee injury

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  • Florida Panthers
    Florida Panthers
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Aleksander Barkov
    Aleksander Barkov
    Finnish ice hockey forward of Russian descent

Aleksander Barkov’s left knee injury was never as bad as it initially seemed and the star forward was already back on the ice for the Florida Panthers’ practice Monday in Coral Springs, less than two weeks after he took a knee-on-knee hit against the New York Islanders on Nov. 16.

Barkov was quickly back on the ice in an individual capacity just a few days after the injury, but Monday marked his first practice back with the team since the scare. He wore a yellow noncontact jersey throughout the duration and spent close to two hours on the ice at the Florida Panthers IceDen.

The Finnish forward remains “week-to-week,” Andrew Brunette said, and is clearly progressing quickly.

“It was nice to see him skate,” the interim coach said. “We’ll see how he makes out every day and kind of reevaluate.”

Barkov won’t be in the lineup Tuesday when the Panthers (14-4-3) host the Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. in Sunrise and it’s unlikely he will play at all during the final three games of this homestand at FLA Live Arena, but a return early in December looks promising.

Florida retroactively placed Barkov on injured reserve Saturday in a clerical move to clear up a roster spot. As he has already missed seven days, Barkov will be eligible to return as soon as he’s healthy. He did not require surgery and was even standing in the locker room without any sort of brace in the immediate aftermath of the injury earlier this month. As a Stanley Cup contender, the Panthers are understandably being cautious with their captain.

Barkov, 26, signed an eight-year, $80 million extension in October.

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Martin Jones (35) blocks a shot by Florida Panthers left wing Anthony Duclair (10) during the second period of an NHL game at the FLA Live Arena on Wednesday, November 24, 2021 in Sunrise, Fl.
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Martin Jones (35) blocks a shot by Florida Panthers left wing Anthony Duclair (10) during the second period of an NHL game at the FLA Live Arena on Wednesday, November 24, 2021 in Sunrise, Fl.

More Florida Panthers injury updates

They are, meanwhile, dealing with a rash of injuries, beyond just Barkov. Florida also placed defenseman Gustav Forsling on IR after he sustained a lower-body injury Saturday and Anthony Duclair, who has missed back-to-back games with a lower-body injury, is unlikely to play against the Capitals (14-3-5) when the Panthers try to snap a rare two-game losing streak, although the winger will skate pregame and Brunette is hopeful he’ll be back either Thursday or Saturday.

With Barkov, Duclair and Forsling all out, and defenseman Markus Nutivaara and forward Noel Acciari both on long-term IR, Florida is missing five players from its projected preseason lineup, as well as left wing Mason Marchment, who was competing for one of the final lineup spots, too.

Acciari hasn’t played since the preseason because of an apparent pectoral injury and Nutivaara, who has played in only one game all season, could be done for the year with a lower-body injury, although Brunette said “there’s a possibility he comes back.”

“Hopefully, we’ll play a long time,” he said, “so you never know.”

Marchment remains week-to-week with a lower-body injury and Brunette said he’s “hoping sooner rather than later.”

Barkov injury tests Panthers’ depth

The Panthers felt their depth would be one of their greatest strengths this year and it’s being tested at the quarter mark of the 2021-22 NHL season.

“It’s a big test for our group,” Brunette said. “We’ve been without Barky, kind of humming along OK, pretty well at times, but with the hiccup over the weekend.”

Florida is now 5-2 without Barkov in the lineup this year, dropping its last two in Washington and at home against the Seattle Kraken. Sam Bennett has taken over as the first-line center since Barkov’s injury and kept the top line playing well.

Barkov, however, is a perennial dark-horse contender for the Hart Memorial Trophy for a reason. He won the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy last year as the league’s best two-way forward, and he logs major minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.

His absence leaves a gaping hole, which the Panthers can overcome against most teams, but it leaves them with a much thinner margin for error, especially when going up against another of the best teams in the league like the Capitals.

“He looks good even if he’s not ready to play, but I think it’s nice to see him. Obviously, he’s our captain and it’s always nice to have him on the ice, and we’re wishing he’s going to come back soon.”