Scoring a team-leading 20 goals and assisting 18 more, Riley Barber was among the Hershey Bears' most prolific skaters last season. It was a familiar role for the 24-year old winger. At the University of Miami (Ohio) he finished second in points all three seasons, just a few back every year from Austin Czarnik, now a promising young center for the Calgary Flames.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Barber is looking to join his friend and former Redhawks teammate in the NHL, hoping for his own chance to contribute when it counts.
"[Czarnik] got a great opportunity [in Calgary] and I'm excited to see him take advantage of it," Barber said. "[For me], I just have to focus on what I can do, off the ice and on, to get a shot."
Barber is off to a good start in September. Through three preseason games this year, Barber has notched a goal and an assist, and has sent a team-leading 14 shots to the net. He scored just minutes into his first exhibition game of the year, a 5-2 loss to Boston in the second preseason contest, as Barber deflected a shot from the left point to put the Caps on the board.
"It had been a long time since I got to celebrate a goal," said Barber, who missed some time in Hershey towards the end of the season with an injury. "It was awesome, just have to keep it going."
And by "keep it going" he means more than just being an offensive presence. Barber is also looking to clear pucks from the Capitals zone and help kill penalties, an area in which he thrived in Hershey. "I think that'll be a huge thing going into the NHL," he said of contributing on special teams.
Reid Cashman, who coached Barber as an assistant in Hershey before being promoted to the Capitals as an assistant coach in July, echoed that sentiment, calling Barber "ultra-competitive in all three facets of the game."
"And when he has time and space, he's just one of those guys who knows where to put the puck," Cashman added.
Cashman then spoke of the adjustments Barber would need to make in the NHL, transitioning from a primary goal-scorer in the AHL to a player hoping to crack the Stanley Cup champions roster.
Video: BOS@WSH: Barber deflects in Alexeyev's shot
"You have less time and space in the NHL, fewer opportunities, so you need to learn how to go to the net a little more and get your release even quicker," Cashman said. "A big thing is moving your feet without the puck to get to open spaces, because they open and close so fast [in the NHL]."
Cashman said Barber's right on track and has "held up his end of the bargain" when it comes to maximizing opportunities. "That's part of the maturation of a pro, spending time in the American league, getting comfortable, and then figuring out how to make the jump to this league," Cashman said.
The 6-foot winger's career trajectory suggests a promising future. In all three years at the University of Miami (Ohio) he increased his goal-total from the previous year, culminating in a 20-goal, 20-assist send-off campaign in 2015. Then it was on to Hershey, to the affiliate of the team that drafted him in the sixth round in 2012 before he opted for the college route.
In three years, Barber has totaled 120 points (59g, 61a) in 178 games in for the Bears, earning AHL Rookie of the Month honors in February 2016. He also played in three games with the Capitals during the 2016-17 season, providing him with some live-action experience as he continues his journey to the NHL.
"He's right where he was projected to be through his career," Cashman said. "[Now] he needs to figure out a way to take that last right wing spot, compete for that job and make the most of his opportunity."