Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie was looking to become a lasting presence on the team’s blue line. He made the leap during the 2012-13 season, splitting time between the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL and the Avs of the NHL, before finding a full-time home as a part of the Avalanche’s defensive core during the 2013-14 campaign.
Since then, Barrie hasn’t looked back.
“It started with last year. At the beginning of the year, it was kind of so-so, and then about halfway through he just took off and he flourished. I think he’s trying to continue that, and he’s done a good job of it, certainly,” forward John Mitchell said of Barrie. “He has confidence out there, and he handles the puck very well. He’s not afraid to give somebody a little shimmy-shake and get by them. It’s nice to see from the back end.”
The 23-year-old rear guard is on the verge of a milestone tonight, an accolade that has come swiftly and yet, when watching how important he is offensively, it seems surprising that he hasn’t reached it by now. Barrie is one point away from 100 in his budding, young career, and he will be seeking that and more as his club looks to stay alive in the Western Conference as it faces the Buffalo Sabres on Star Wars Night at Pepsi Center.
He has 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 35 games since the start of the New Year, including eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his last 10 games. He also leads all Colorado defensemen with 48 points this season, the most by an Avs blueliner since 2005-06 (Rob Blake 51, John-Michael Liles 49). So it isn’t as if he’ll need to use The Force or a Jedi Mind Trick to hit 100 before too long.
All he’ll really need to do is continue to execute in the areas that have been working for him.
“Tyson is a guy that can takeover games. The other night, he played… 29 minutes, and it doesn’t look like he’s tired at all. He’s got those wheels, and it’s fun to watch,” his defensive partner, Nate Guenin, said. “He has a lot of confidence on the ice, and it’s really easy to play with him out there. He can skate the puck out of trouble, he makes the big play when we need it, and I think we’ve seen him trying to force less things as the year goes on.
“He can make those plays, but there’s times when he doesn’t have to, and he’s never a liability defensively. I’m never worried about him out there. It’s been a lot of fun playing with him.”
Barrie is two points shy of becoming the fourth Avs defenseman to reach 50 points in a single season. It has been done just seven times before and by only three players: Sandis Ozolinsh (four times), Rob Blake (two times) and Ray Bourque (once).
Selected in the third round (64th overall) at the 2009 NHL Draft, Barrie is one of those players that can fit into many areas in the lineup, essentially adding an extra forward to the mix whenever he takes the ice.
“He’s obviously a dynamic player for us, especially on the back end and the way he rushes the puck and skates it up. He’s [got] a No. 4, Bobby Orr sort of thing going on. Maybe not quite, but he certainly does all those things that you want from a puck-moving defenseman, an offensive defenseman,” Mitchell explained. “He’s great on the power play for us. He works hard in his own end to get those pucks, and when he has an opportunity to skate with it, he’s definitely a threat.
“He’s certainly been big for our club.”
It isn’t just behind the puck where Barrie seems to be thriving. He’s also sharpened his game in front of it, strengthening the defensive aspect of his abilities as he matures in the league.
“He’s been outstanding. Obviously, the offensive skills are there. We just want to make sure that he plays as solid defensively [as] offensively,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “I feel that lately, the fact that he’s picking the right time to go offensively gives him the energy to play defense. I [think] the mix is there, and he’s been playing really well for us.”
Barrie has been called upon significantly this season, as fellow defenseman Erik Johnson has been sidelined following knee surgery on Jan. 26. Johnson was leading Avalanche and NHL blueliners in goals (12) and had 23 points in 47 games before his injury.
“Those two are the guys that put up the most numbers on the back end, and when E.J. goes down—and he’s having a career year—it’s big shoes to fill,” said center Matt Duchene. “Tyson’s not going to completely fill those on his own, but he stepped up and filled a lot of it. He’s been fun to watch. I’ve been really happy for him to see the year he’s had.”
Barrie’s success at the NHL level—which has earned him 26 goals and 73 assists in 178 contests—hasn’t come as a surprise to Duchene, who was also drafted in 2009, albeit third overall.
“The first time I saw him play, you could kind of tell that he had it. He had that special quality that could make him an elite player at any level,” said Duchene. “His skill is very good, but what’s even better is his vision and how he sees the ice. When he’s confident, he’s real confident, and it’s fun to watch. He’s had a great season.”
Some of the credit can be given to the comfortable environment in which Barrie has been able to grow and foster his talents. He’s been given the green light to move the puck offensively, and he has also had a consistent defensive partner for over a year now.
“When he got back from Cleveland last year, we played together, and we’ve played together since then. I think it was pretty quick, just the chemistry, and now I read off of him and where he’s going,” said Guenin. “The longer you play with [someone], whether you’re a forward or a defenseman, you develop that chemistry, and it’s just a sense of comfort. When you’re on the ice, you know that you can depend on [him]. We can depend on all the D-men, but when you have that relationship it makes the game easier for you.
“My role has been the same since I was probably 6 years old. I never had any skill, so nothing’s changed there, but [I know] that I have a partner that when he has the puck, he’s going to make a play. He can get us out of the zone, and he knows that I’m going to be there most of the time supporting him. So if he does try to make a play and it doesn’t pan out, he knows that I’ll be there to get his back.”
It’s not all Imperial Marches and vacations to Tattooine for Guenin, who admits that sometimes even he gets caught watching Tyson take over.
“[Andre Tourigny], our ‘D’ coach, he says sometimes I take a ticket and it’s like I’m watching The Tyson Show because you catch him skating and it’s pretty impressive,” said Guenin. “But you’ve always got to be there supporting him in case there’s a turnover. We’re very comfortable playing together, and we enjoy it.”