The Florida Panthers ensured 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov will be a part of the franchise's future, agreeing to a long-term extension with him on Monday.
According to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, the deal is for six years and carries an average annual value of $5.9 million. Barkov essentially let the cat out of the bag earlier in the day in a tweet directed at actor Kevin Spacey:
Florida went on to confirm the deal on Tuesday.
The Panthers selected Barkov second overall in the 2013 draft, and in 163 games for Florida, he has scored 36 goals and assisted on 54 more. He's well on pace to set single-season career highs in goals and assists in 2015-16, with 12 and 18, respectively, in 38 games.
Dom Luszczyszyn of the Hockey News provided a visual representation of Barkov's improvement in 2015-16:
The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington still questions whether Barkov has done enough to warrant such a lengthy contract:
Sportsnet's Thomas Drance countered the Panthers did a good bit of business:
Barkov has formed a strong attacking line with Jonathan Huberdeau on the left and Jaromir Jagr on the right, and the trio has helped the Panthers collect the second-most points in the Eastern Conference.
The franchise hasn't made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season—the only trip to the postseason going back to 1999-2000—but it looks to be turning a corner, in no small part because of young talent such as Barkov.
The Panthers rewarded 23-year-old center Nick Bjugstad with an extension in December 2014, and the fans will be encouraged with Barkov on board for the long haul. Now, general manager Dale Tallon can focus his efforts on re-signing 19-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is set to hit restricted free agency in 2017.