Prior to the 2014-15 season, the Colorado Avalanche hadn’t had a defenseman reach the half-century mark in points since Rob Blake collected 51 in the 2005-06 campaign.
This is no longer the case, as one of the more talented young offensive defenseman in the league, Tyson Barrie, surpassed the 50-point mark for the first time in his career last season. He became just the fourth Avalanche rear guard to ever do so, joining Sandis Ozolinish (four times), Blake (two times) and Ray Bourque.
Barrie collected the eighth most points in the NHL by a defenseman with 53, and his 12 goals tied him for the most by an Avalanche blueliner during the year with Erik Johnson. The Victoria, British Columbia, native's 41 assists not only led the club last season, but it was also the most helpers by an Avs defenseman since Bourque had 52 in the 2000-01 season.
Overall, Barrie’s 53 points were the most by a rear guard on the team since 2001-02 when Blake collected 56.
The D-man also led the club in plus/minus with a plus-5 rating, and had the second most power-play points (16) and average time on the ice (21:21 minutes per game).
“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,” teammate Matt Duchene said of Barrie last March. “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.”
Barrie registered 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) last year during 5-on-5 play, tying Steve Duchesne (Quebec, 1992-93) for the franchise record for the most even-strength points by a defenseman. Barrie's 5-on-5 points also tied him for third most in the league for D-men, just two points behind Montreal's P.K. Subban (seven goals, 32 assists) for first.
Barrie was also one of the players looked upon to take on a larger role for the team when Johnson's mid-season knee surgery forced him to miss the second half of the year. He did just that, helping the Avs remain in playoff contention until the final few games of the season.
“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,” Duchene said. “Tyson’s not going to completely fill those on his own, but he stepped up and filled a lot of it."
From Feb. 20 to March 14, Barrie tallied 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) over the span of 11 games. The Avs won eight out of those contests.
Colorado head coach Patrick Roy was proud of how Barrie played on the offensive side of the rink, but he might have been even more impressed with how the rear guard had improved his defensive game over the course of the season.
“He’s been outstanding. Obviously, the offensive skills are there. We just want to make sure that he plays as solid defensively [as] offensively,” Roy said in late March. “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.”
While Barrie made the transition on the ice look easy, that wasn't necessarily the case.
"It can be tough," Barrie said to NHL.com about mixing defensive and offensive aspects in his game. "Earlier, I was having some problems with it. It's something you work on, watching video and working with the coaches. The offensive instincts, you don't want to mess with those too much. You learn, try not to be reckless. It's something I'll need to focus on my whole career."
The 24-year-old has become a fan favorite in Colorado and is putting up comparable numbers with some of the best offensive defensemen in the league. Avs fans should be excited to see what’s in store for him in the future.