Wayne Gretzky Calls Panthers Forward ‘Best Defensive Hockey Player’ He’s Seen

Wayne Gretzky heaped praise on Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 8.

Gretzky is considered the greatest hockey player of all time as he has his number 99 jersey retired by all 32 teams in the NHL. During Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Gretzky called Barkov, who signed a 10-year $80 million deal with the Panthers in 2021, the best defensive hockey player he’s seen in years.

“No. 16 is the best defensive hockey player I’ve seen since Bryan Trottier.” – Wayne Gretzky

Aleksander Barkov was humbled to hear the Great One’s comments about him during Game 1 yesterday. pic.twitter.com/xL7OSeKplt

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 10, 2024

“I just said to my wife sitting there during the first period. I said, Number 16 is the best defensive hockey player I’ve seen since Bryan Trottier. And I got Bryan Trottier four games (in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final). And what did I get? No goals. And what did we get? No Cup,” Gretzky said on the Hockey Night in Canada panel on June 8.

With how good Barkov is playing defensively, Gretzky says Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid has his work cut out this series to produce offense.

“You learn from that. Both of those guys are two great players, Barkov makes an unreal pass, and he’s good offensively like Trottier was. But, Connor (McDavid) has his work cut out with this young man,” Gretzky added.

Barkov has won the Selke Trophy twice, including this year which is awarded to the top defensive forward in the NHL.

In the playoffs, Barkov has recorded 6 goals and 13 assists for 19 points.

Barkov Responds to Gretzky’s Comments

Following the Panthers’ 3-0 shutout win over the Oilers in Game 1 on June 8, Barkov was told about Gretzky’s comments and he was honored by them.

“Wow. Yeah, I mean, coming from him, especially, means a lot. Everyone knows what he’s done to the game of hockey. And when you hear stuff, especially people like him saying stuff like that, it obviously means a lot, coming from players or former players. I appreciate that,” Barkov told the media after Game 1 on June 8.

In Game 1 against the Oilers, Barkov recorded 2 assists in a 3-0 win to take a 1-0 series lead over Edmonton.

Panthers Head Coach Praises Barkov

Gretzky wasn’t the only person to praise Barkov for his ability to shut the opposing team’s players down.

After Game 1, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice shared a ton of praise on Barkov but says he’s much more than a defensive player.

“I don’t view Barkov as a shutdown center because he doesn’t hit the ice with the idea of, ‘This is all I will do,’” Maurice said, via NHL.com. “He’s wired first to think defensively, team hockey first. But he’s a pretty gifted dynamic man as well.

“He carries that weight of having to do both. And there’s a challenge to it, but as you will see, there’s always a give-and-take in that. We need Barkov also to push the offensive envelope, to make the play he made on the first goal. So, it’s not a sit-back, gap game where all he does is grind it out. He’s far more gifted than that,” Maurice added.

Barkov has been a member of the Panthers since Florida took him with the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL. Barkov was named the Panthers captain in 2018 and has skated in 737 NHL games with 266 goals and 445 assists for 711 points.

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