In most of the trades that Kent Hughes made leading up to last season’s NHL Trade Deadline, draft picks were the main piece. While Emil Heineman, and Ty Smilanic are solid prospects, they were overshadowed by first-round picks in the trades of Tyler Toffoli and Ben Chiarot, respectively.
The one exception was defenceman Justin Barron, who was acquired along with a 2024 second-round pick for Artturi Lehkonen. The trade has already worked out well for the Colorado Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup, and Lehkonen, who along with the Cup got a nice long extension from the team.
How it works out for the Montreal Canadiens will likely come down to how Barron develops.
He played 45 games with the Colorado organization before the trade, including his first two NHL games. In 43 games in the AHL, he had five goals and 15 assists. Of course the teams are different, but his 20 points in the AHL would have put him third among Laval defenders last season.
After the trade, he went straight to the NHL and played five games before an ankle injury ended his season. In those five games, he had his first NHL goal, and added one assist.
The ankle injury didn’t require surgery, which meant he had a full off-season to get ready. He skated in the team’s July development camp before also getting an invite to rookie camp.
Barron was a first-round pick by the Avalanche at 25th overall in 2020. His draft season was cut short first from a blood clot being discovered in his shoulder that kept him out from November, and the COVID-19 pandemic ended the QMJHL season just after he returned. He finally got the chance to play at the World Juniors in 2021, where he had two assists in seven games.
Considering we’re into the top 6, Barron has a significant range in votes. His highest vote is 4 and it goes all the way down to 20. He also had two additional votes outside the top 10, but had nine of the 12 votes inside the top 7.
My high vote sticks out slightly, but for me, I see him as a potential top-pairing defenceman with a really good chance of being a top-four blue-liner. He can also provide some help on the power play, and play in all situations. As we’ll see throughout the article, the outcome likely has to do with how his complete game develops at the NHL level.
Although this is his first year in the Canadiens Top 25 Under 25, our sister site Mile High Hockey had him at #7 last year.
History of #6
|2015||Jacob de la Rose|
Throughout his time in the QMJHL, Barron was never shy to skate with the puck. Much of his offence came from either rushing the puck up ice, or with his big shot from the point. He also loves to implicate himself offensively, and doesn’t shy away from seeking opportunities that see him in the slot, or even at the net close to the goal line.
His confidence and ability with the puck allows him to lead to zone exits and zone entries with his carrying ability or his good first pass.
Defensively, Barron is turning into a pretty good rush defender who isn’t shy to lay the body once opposing forwards get behind him.
In his first full professional season last year, Barron had to adjust his game. While there were still some rushes, he played a more conservative style. His decision-making with the puck, especially under pressure, left something to be desired, but are common issues to plague players when they move up to a higher level.
There have always been questions surrounding Barron’s ability to translate his game to the next level, as the things that made him good in junior hockey may not necessarily work as well at the next level.
He’s still a player getting his confidence at the professional level, and that is a part of his game that should improve.
In the video above, Elite Prospects (and former EOTP) contributor David St-Louis points out a few of the positives and things to work on for Barron at the AHL level. He saw Barron topping out as a number-four defenceman in the NHL, while I think there’s a bit more in him.
Where he ends up on the depth chart will likely be determined by how much offence he will be able to generate at the NHL level. The good news for Barron is that unlike most defencemen who have questions offensively, his defensive base is quite solid. At 6’2”, 194 pounds, his upside is not limited to his scoring potential, it would simply add to a well-rounded game.
He will have every opportunity to play a big role at the NHL level in 2022-23. The right side of the Canadiens’ defence is not the deepest, and that will likely see him start the year in the team’s top-four.
During a media availability at the team’s golf tournament, Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes said that even though a defenceman may be playing well for 15-16 minutes at the NHL level, if the team wants them to develop on the power play and play 22-23 minutes, they may send the player to the AHL to work on that aspect of their game. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that Barron and Mattias Norlinder are two of the players that best fit that scenario.
Before he even made his Canadiens debut, development coach Adam Nicholas was seen working one-on-one with Barron, focusing on footwork. If Nicholas can work with Barron to tighten up not only some of his weaknesses, but to improve his strengths, it will go a long way into what his upside will be.
Adam Nicholas en action (avec Barron là-dessus).— Marc-André Perreault (@MA_PerreaultTVA) March 24, 2022
Martin St-Louis, lui ou le joueur lui-même identifie un truc à travailler et il s’occupe de ça. pic.twitter.com/17xsq1I44n
Barron provides an interesting scenario for how the team’s development approach will work. He’s already a player with a high floor who is ready to make an impact at the professional level, but discovering how much more can be unlocked will go a long way into turning a very good prospect into a very good NHL player.
Whether it is at the NHL or AHL level, a good 2022-23 season will solidify his position amid the better defencemen, regardless of handedness, in the organization.
Patrik Bexell and Jason Paul discuss Barron in this episode of Habsent Minded.