The young defenceman finds himself at a crossroads early in his career.
Justin Barron was acquired along with a 2024 second-round pick for Artturi Lehkonen near the end of the 2021-22 season. In 25 games in the AHL last year, he had seven goals and nine assists; his 0.64 points per game had him tied to first among Laval defencemen. He played 39 games with the Montreal Canadiens to end the season, recording four goals and 11 assists.
With the staggering number of NHL-calibre blue-liners in the organization, he will have to keep showing that offensive output to earn a spot in camp. It’s entirely possible we will see him starting the season in Laval once again as a waivers-exempt player, but he will be among the final players cut from the roster if that comes to pass.
The voting was fairly consistent for Barron, whom the majority had just outside the top 10. He narrowly edged out Adam Engström and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard to take the spot at 11.
On all accounts, Barron fared well at the NHL level, getting better and more comfortable as the games passed. The main reason he slid down the rankings was the new players joining the organization and a few having greater standout performances.
History of #11
|2018||Jacob de la Rose|
Even with his 15 points in a 39-game rookie season, he has untapped offensive potential at the pro level. Having a fairly robust toolkit, he likes to rush the puck up the ice, or uses his big shot from the point on established possessions to generate offence.
He has great vision and his accurate shot is a constant threat, which earned him decent power-play time toward the end of last season. He implicates himself offensively, not shying away from opportunities that see him in the slot, or even at the net close to the goal line. He supports the forwards in the offensive end, going deep into the zone, looking for a pass or opening up a lane to use his shot.
His confidence and ability with the puck allows him to lead zone exits and entries with his carrying ability or his passing. On the other side of the ice, he is turning into a pretty good rush defender who isn’t shy to lay the body once opposing forwards get in on offence. His stick is always active as he tries to use his 6’2″ frame to poke at opponents.
Like many young defencemen, Barron isn’t perfect defensively. He is still prone to defensive miscues and has to clean up that area. With a little more focus on slowing down forwards and reducing scoring chances against, he would become a more complete defenceman. He isn’t as sound defensively as Jordan Harris, but can still hold his own. Becoming a bit better at gap control, boxing out the opposing forwards, and using his long reach would go a long way into making him a reliable option for the coaching staff in all three zones. Most of his issues are about his consistency and mistakes that come with youth.
The best way for him to ensure a long NHL career would be to unlock even more of his offensive potential. He needs to jump on those key scoring opportunities and add a certain layer of complexity to his offensive game. Right now, his offensive plays are rather simple. He can still use his long stride, size, and agility to make more creative plays against opposing defenders.
With the skill set Barron has, it is easy to understand why the Canadiens asked for him to be included in their package for Lehkonen. He’s big, has a hard shot, and is overall a fairly rounded player.
He’s already made an impact at the NHL level, but discovering how much more he can push himself should give us an indicator as to whether he’ll become a reliable second-pairing players or a third-pairing option who needs a good partner (as he had in Mike Matheson to begin his run of offence last year) and a favourable deployment. Barron is in a similar position to what Harris wasa year ago; holding a lot of potential yet to be fully exploited.
Barron has top-four potential, and with a little more polishing could become a dependable right-shot blue-liner. Now, a healthy season with regular playing time to get comfortable in a role would go a long way in evaluating where Barron is currently at in his development.