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Barber: 'This is a huge turning point in my career'

After lighting it up in the AHL last season, forward Riley Barber is out to prove that his game is ready for the NHL ranks

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - Change is a good thing. Just ask Riley Barber.

Last summer, the 25-year-old American right-winger elected to switch things up training-wise in hopes of turning the tables on back-to-back subpar AHL campaigns in 2016-17 (27 points) and 2017-18 (38 points), respectively.

With that in mind, he joined the likes of forwards Dylan Larkin and Kyle Connor, and defenseman Jeff Petry, for workouts at Barwis Performance Center, a renowned facility in Plymouth, MI located just a short walk from his home.

And the decision paid serious dividends for Barber this past season with the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

He set new career-highs with a team-leading 31 goals - including 13 power play goals and six game-winning markers - and registered 60 points in 64 regular season games, before adding three goals and six points in nine postseason appearances.

"I really came into the year in shape, and after signing that one-year restricted free-agent deal [with Washington in July 2018], I wanted to prove some people wrong. I just took that into the year, that kind of fire," said Barber, who agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens on Monday. "I just wanted to give everything I had, so I completely changed to Barwis. I started from scratch again. I decided that I have a one-year deal to prove to myself and everybody else that I could play the game at a high level, and it's not done yet."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Learn more about new Canadiens forward Riley Barber.READ ��� #GoHabsGo

It's just that type of resolve that the Miami University (Ohio) product will be bringing along with him to Montreal with his sights firmly set on proving his worth to the Habs' brass at training camp.

"This is a huge turning point in my career as a hockey player. Going into my fifth year pro, I really want to show everyone that I'm an NHL-caliber player and that I can play in that League," said Barber, a sixth-round pick of the Capitals in 2012 who boasts 90 goals and 180 points in 237 career AHL games. "Coming into this year, my goal is to show people that I can play in that League on all four lines."

So what is Barber - the son of former NHLer Don Barber - planning on showcasing in the fall?

"I can get into the spots where people can get me the puck and I can get the puck off quick. I like to play a 200-foot game. I'm hard to play against. I can play bottom six, those tough minutes, and if I get a shot on one of the top six lines, I know I can produce," explained Barber. "I showed that this past year with that kind of stat line. I'm looking to come into camp with a positive attitude and try to make a great first impression. I think that's the biggest thing to me."

As for Barber's strengths, he believes they "start with [his] hockey IQ" and essentially roll from there.

"I'm able to play with guys, make plays and finish. I play north-south, get in, play gritty, get under sticks and go to the net hard," insisted Barber. "But, I also play the game really well defensively."

Familiar faces

Petry isn't the only member of the Canadiens organization with whom Barber has a connection.

In addition to being a former teammate of first-rounder Michael McCarron during a stint with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), Barber also claimed a gold medal alongside defenseman Mike Reilly at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Russia.

Petry, though, has been a key influence of late.

"I really kind of knew him from skates around Michigan because we all skate together. When I moved to Barwis, we started talking right away. He's just a true professional," praised Barber, on the nine-year NHL veteran. "When you're in the gym working out with a guy with the career that he's had, it's a pretty good guy to be working out next to."

No doubt Petry will serve as a valuable source of information for Barber regarding all things Montreal, and the Habs' new acquisition plans on "asking as many questions as possible" now that he joined the fold.

While Barber has played on Quebec soil before, taking part in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament on two occasions as a youngster, he would relish the opportunity to play at the Bell Centre for the first time soon.

"I think it would be a dream come true. You dream about it when you're a kid, playing in that rink and playing in front of those kinds of fans, and the love of the game they have. They watch every play, every shot," said Barber, who appeared in three NHL games with Washington in 2016-17. "To play in that rink would be an absolute honor and something I'd cherish forever."

There's no denying his commitment to achieving that objective, which will surely bring cheers in the Barber household if it comes to fruition.

"I'm so excited for the season to start. I wish it was September right now," concluded Barber. "My dad's side of the family is all Canadian from Victoria, BC. Everybody loves the Montreal Canadiens, so I got a bunch of love from the Canadian side after signing. That's for sure."

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