Which Tyson Barrie was the real deal last season? There was the player who struggled in the first month and was sent to the minors, and then the one who returned to finish with 13 goals, the most by a Colorado Avalanche defenseman since John-Michael Liles scored 14 in 2006-07.
Barrie's emergence as an offensive force and clutch performer -- his five game-winning goals tied him for third among NHL defensemen -- was a major factor in the Avalanche's Central Division title and first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in four years.
Barrie, who turned 23 in July, had all of his goals and 22 of his 25 assists in the final 47 games. He averaged 18:32 in ice time for the season and his plus-17 rating was third best on the team.
Re-signing Barrie is now the Avalanche's top priority. His entry-level contract has expired and he is a restricted free agent.
First-year coach Patrick Roy wanted his defensemen to be more involved in the offense after they scored five goals in 48 games in 2012-13, and they responded by combining for 48 goals with Barrie leading the way.
Barrie, who is 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, said during the season it was difficult for him to go back to the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Monsters in the American Hockey League after Roy touted him as a "top-four" defenseman early in training camp.
Barrie didn't perform very well in the first four games, was a healthy scratch for eight of the next nine, and on Nov. 6 was sent to Lake Erie. He played in six games there and was recalled Nov. 17.
He had two assists in his first game back, a 5-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, but he didn't have a point in the next 11 games before scoring his first goal in a 6-2 win against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 16, a game that turned his season around.
"I thought I was ready to play from the beginning of the year," Barrie said last season. "I guess it turned out to be a good thing to go down and get some playing time because I hadn't played in quite some time. But I know I can play in this League. I just need to show them that I can do it."
Barrie, whose father Len played seven NHL seasons, was a third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2009 NHL Draft. He played parts of five seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League, where in 2009-10 he was named Defenseman of the Year after scoring 19 goals and 53 assists in 63 games.
Barrie made his NHL debut in 2011-12 and shuttled between Colorado and Lake Erie his first two seasons in the League, when he had two goals and 11 assists in 42 games. Based on his performance last season, Barrie could be a fixture in Denver for a long time assuming the Avalanche are able to re-sign him.
"Luck is definitely up there," said Barrie, whose three overtime goals tied David Jones' 2010-11 single-season franchise record. "Sometimes the puck just comes to you. I've been fortunate to get a few big goals."
But Barrie's season ended in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild when he sustained a knee injury on a hit by Matt Cooke. The Avalanche, who lost the series in seven games, missed Barrie's ability to lead breakouts and on power plays, but he's expected to be ready for training camp.
"I think (the injury) was one of the toughest things I've ever had to deal with in hockey," Barrie said after the Avalanche lost Game 7. "It was so exciting, my first NHL playoffs. To have to be on the sidelines watching for the rest of it was pretty tough."
Even as last season came to a devastating end for Barrie and the Avalanche, he already had his eyes on 2014-15.
"It's frustrating, but we've got such a good young team here," Barrie said. "Hopefully I'll be a part of it for a long time and we can make some noise in the playoffs in the future."
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