Early returns suggest addition of Dadonov has transformed Panthers’ top line

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

When the Panthers signed Evgenii Dadonov at the start of free-agency in July, they had a pretty good idea of what they were getting. 

It certainly helped that two members of the front office who had a hand in drafting Dadonov 71st-overall at the 2007 Draft – European scouts Vadim Podrezov and Jari Kekalainen – are still with the team today.

Described as a “highly-skilled” forward with “tremendous upside” by then-general manager Jacques Martin, Dadonov went on to leave North America in 2012 for greener pastures in his native Russia.

He managed a meager 20 points in 55 NHL games, and fared slightly better in the AHL, posting 84 points in 155 games.

However, the now 28-year old’s play over the past five seasons in the KHL, widely regarded as the second-best league in the world behind the NHL, spoke for itself.

In his most recent season, Dadonov, skating for SKA St. Petersburg, recorded the third-most goals in the KHL (33) and the fifth-most points (66).

Over the past three World Championship tournaments, he compiled an impressive stat line of 32 points in 30 games.

Unsurprisingly, his offensive production generated interest in his services across the pond.

With several forwards departing in the off-season, specifically Jaromir Jagr, who was a mainstay on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers had holes to fill.

A forward to match not only the up-tempo style the Panthers want to play – as well as the rest of the league – but could also keep up with and compliment the aforementioned Barkov and Huberdeau was a must.

“High speed, great work ethic, gets on pucks, makes plays; our fans are really gonna like him,” said general manager Dale Tallon after signing Dadonov to a three-year, $12 million contract nearly five years to the day that he traded him from Florida to the Carolina Hurricanes.

“He plays a hard, 200-foot game, and he’s very creative, very fast.”

So far, Dadonov’s been exactly that and more.

There was definitely a feeling-out process to start the season for Dadonov and his new linemates, but over the last five games, the trio has clicked, managing a combined 27 points.

At the start of that stretch, head coach Bob Boughner could see the chemistry begin to materialize.

“They had a great preseason, and maybe a little bit of a slow start, but the way they’re playing now is what we all thought it was going to be,” Bougher said just over a week ago.

And then of Dadonov: “I love his work ethic, he’s a high-skilled player, but he’s buying into the team plan which is more important. He’s been a nice addition.”

Dadonov has three straight multi-point efforts and four in his last five games, Huberdeau is riding a six-game point streak during which he has totaled nine points, and Barkov has 10 points in his last five games, including a career-best 3-assist game on Monday against the Lightning.

All three have 14 points on the year, which puts them at a 104-point pace over a full 82-game campaign, and each would have one more point added to their totals had Huberdeau’s goal on Saturday against the Red Wings not been disallowed.

They also own the fifth-best Corsi For percentage in the league at 59.33, the second-lowest Corsi Against per 60 rate of 42.3, and the third-highest Goals For per 60 rate of 5.47 among line combinations that have skated at least 50 minutes together at 5v5.

“I just try to play hard, I just try to help the team,” said Dadonov, whose three power play goals and five power play points both pace the Panthers.

There’s also some other mind-boggling numbers that show how well the line has actually played and how it is clearly running the Panthers’ offense.

Through the first 11 games of the season, only one player in team history has more points than Dadonov, Barkov, and Huberdeau, and that’s Scott Mellanby, who had 15 points at the start of the 1995-1996 schedule.

Not only that, but Dadonov’s six goals in the first 11 games are the second-most in franchise history behind Mellanby (1996) and Steve Reinprecht (2010).

And how about one more.

Aleksander Barkov’s 10 assists is the most in franchise history in that same span while Huberdeau’s nine assists are second-most.

There have been a handful of offensive threats that have suited up for the Panthers’ in their history, so it goes to show that there’s definitely something brewing up front.

“He’s definitely the right guy on that line,” said Boughner of Dadonov. “I think he’s making [Barkov] and [Huberdeau] better players.”

As much as it’s a good thing for Dadonov, Barkov, and Huberdeau to combine for 42 points so early in the year, what’s not great is that the rest of the team has totaled just 68 points.

Something will have to give in the bottom-9 if the Panthers want to be more successful, and with some injuries in that area over the past couple of weeks, that’s already looking like a tall order.

“That’s the problem; we’ve got to find consistency from every line,” said Boughner after the Lightning’s 8-5 drubbing of the Panthers on Monday.

“I’ve always said we’re a four-line team and we need all four lines going. We’re not as deep as other teams and that’s why we need everybody.”

Petrovic situation “worth watching”

Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman reported on Tuesday night that the Panthers’ situation with defenseman Alex Petrovic has teams watching and waiting.

Petrovic has been a healthy scratch in three of the Panthers’ last five games in favor of rookie blue-liners Ian McCoshen and Mackenzie Weegar, and his average ice time is down to 13:42 per game compared to 18:09 a season ago.

He sat on the bench for the entire third period during Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings, finishing at just over 9 minutes of ice time.

“He’s a guy who clearly is not right now among Bob Boughner’s favorites,” said Friedman. “I think it’s a situation worth watching. I do think teams are monitoring it.”

“There was some good points in the last little while and some points he needs to clean up,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told the Sun-Sentinel this past week.

Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 Draft by current general manager Dale Tallon, the 25-year old Petrovic signed a one-year, $1.85 million contract as a restricted free-agent at the end of June.

“I don’t get the sense that the Panthers are willing to do anything yet, but I do get the sense that teams are monitoring it, they’re keeping their eye on it, and if he doesn’t play much soon, I wonder if you’re gonna see some talk about him hitting the market.”

The Panthers chose to include Petrovic in their expansion draft protection list, which was crafted mostly by Tallon, preventing the Vegas Golden Knights from taking him for themselves.

In doing so, they left forwards Reilly Smith and 30-goal scored Jonathan Marchessault unprotected, and both ultimately ended up in Vegas.

Smith has 9 points in 11 games while Marchessault has 6 points in 8 games.

Petrovic is due to become a restricted free-agent again at the end of this season.

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