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Mar 5, 2020; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) and Florida Panthers right wing Evgenii Dadonov (63) battle for control of a loose puck during the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Patrice Bergeron remains excellent in his first season as Bruins captain. But he’s not going to play forever, nor will he be a true No. 1 center for the Bruins until the end of time. With Bergeron at age 35 and David Krejci possibly leaving next offseason – and no clear answers in the pipeline – the Bruins will need to have a clearer long-term plan at center.

One way they may find a top-6 center of the future is to make another push for a big-name free agent. And Ty Anderson, Sports Hub Bruins savant and my co-host on the SideLines podcast, has one particular name in mind: Aleksander Barkov.

The Florida Panthers captain is one of the best (and most underappreciated) two-way centers in hockey. He’s a point-per-game producer on offense and has great command of the other two zones. He has ideal centerman size at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds. He will still be only 27 years old if and when he becomes a free agent.

Barkov should attract plenty of suitors, just like John Tavares did before choosing Toronto. The Bruins made their pitch to Tavares, too, and have been linked to other big-name free agents or trade targets in the recent past. Barkov would instantly make any team a lot better, but he seems like a particularly good fit for what the Bruins would want in a franchise center to eventually take the torch from Bergeron.

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov is on track to become a free agent in 2022. Could he be on the Bruins' radar? (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY)

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov is on track to become a free agent in 2022. Could he be on the Bruins’ radar? (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY)

The only thing is that Barkov isn’t a free agent until after the 2021-22 season. So if Krejci leaves, the Bruins may opt to simply move Charlie Coyle to the No. 2 center spot next year. But after that? Ty thinks the Bruins could be saving cap space to be in play for Barkov on the open market.

“I think that one of the reasons why they’re not adding money right now is they would look at [Barkov] as a guy who would almost be the ‘heir’ to Bergeron, as that two-way shutdown guy who can still score goals and put up points,” Anderson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried what they did with John Tavares with Barkov, where they just try to throw the moon at him and say, ‘Please come here. Be the face of what we’re trying to do up front.’

“If you’re looking to get a guy, that’s the guy.”

MORE: Watch the Bruins’ Trent Frederic chirp P.K. Subban

Ty and I touched on the Bruins’ current situation with centers in the system. It adds up to a group of NHL-caliber centermen, but not true No. 1’s, or even top-6. Jack Studnicka seems like he could peak as a second-line forward. Trent Frederic is better suited in a bottom-six role, at least for now. John Beecher has a similar profile to Frederic.

Could Barkov be Don Sweeney’s big target all along? If they do want to make an aggressive move in free agency, Ty believes that is the direction Sweeney would take. It would be an admission that they never could identify the “next Bergeron” internally, but it would also land one of the NHL’s premiere centers.

There’s plenty more hockey talk on the latest SideLines podcast, which came out last Thursday. We covered the Bruins’ current and future situations at forward and how the season’s gone for them so far. Listen to the full episode below and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.