Captain switch: Panthers give ‘C’ to Aleksander Barkov

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Often times in the NHL, the captain of a team is one of the better players on the roster. For the last few years, the Florida Panthers had been the exception to the rule, as Derek MacKenzie wore the ‘C’ on his jersey. But on Monday, the organization announced that they were removing the captaincy from MacKenzie and handing it to Aleksander Barkov.

The 23-year-old has arguably been Florida’s best player for the last three years, but the team obviously felt like he was still a little too young to burden such a responsibility. Now, a year after he posted a career-high 78 points and finished fourth in Selke Trophy voting, they feel it’s his time to take up more of a leadership role.

“Aleksander Barkov is ready to be the captain of the Florida Panthers,” GM Dale Tallon said in a release. “He has all of the qualities of a great leader: unrivaled work ethic, wisdom beyond his years and the respect and admiration of his teammates. Aleksander’s determination and passion for the game have made him one of the NHL’s best and most complete players. The time was right for Aleksander to be named the captain of this franchise and I’m certain that he will bring the same high standard of class and dedication to the captaincy that he brings to the rink every single day.”

If you’re expecting things to be awkward in the Panthers’ room now that they took the “C” away from one player only to give it to another player, it sounds like you have another thing coming.

“I’ve been honored to serve as Panthers captain and I’m proud to hand the captain’s ‘C’ off to a leader as mature and deserving as Aleksander is,” said MacKenzie. “We’ve got a strong team with a strong group of leaders going into this year and I’m extremely excited to be part of something special.”

Wearing a letter on your jersey in Florida doesn’t come with the same pressure as wearing it in markets like Toronto or Montreal, but it’s still an added responsibility. It’ll be interesting to see how Barkov handles being the guy everyone looks to when things aren’t going well. Of course, that responsibility doesn’t fall on his shoulders alone, but he’s going to be the one that will have to answer all the questions when things go off the rails.

Even though he isn’t the most vocal player in that dressing room, Barkov should be just fine.

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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.