DENVER -- Like most young defensemen, Tyson Barrie struggles at times in his end. But he's improved so much since the beginning of the season that Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy no longer considers him to be a defensive liability.
"It can be tough," Barrie said. "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."
Defense - COL
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 46
SOG: 123 | +/-: 5
Barrie, 23, has the offensive part down. A fluid skater and puck-handler, he has five goals and 10 assists in his past 14 games and is among the NHL's top-scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 assists (46 points) in 68 games.
"I think he knows he's a pretty special player," defense partner Nate Guenin said. "He won't talk about it, but he has that confidence that all the great players have. It's going to be fun to see him take his game to the next level."
Barrie, whose father, Len Barrie, played seven NHL seasons, was a third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2009 NHL Draft. Tyson 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.
He made his NHL debut in 2011-12, shuttling between Colorado and the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League his first two seasons before blossoming last season following a brief trip back to the minors.
"We thought he was struggling," Roy said. "When he came back, he was totally different. He was playing with a lot of confidence."
Barrie had 13 goals and 25 assists in 64 games and helped the Avalanche finish a surprising first in the Central Division. But his season ended in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild when he sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a hit by Matt Cooke. His absence hurt the Avalanche, who lost the series in seven games.
Barrie acknowledged he worried how the knee would respond once he recovered. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he needs his skating, speed and agility to be effective.
"I was a little nervous," he said. "I did a lot of rehab and it didn't hold me back at all. I went back on the ice and it felt pretty good. Skating is one of my strong suits. I'm not a big guy, so I try to move and get out of the way of the guys trying to hit me. The knee hasn't affected that at all."
Like the Avalanche, Barrie started slowly this season. He had eight points (one goal, seven assists) in the first 14 games but was minus-8 when the Avalanche opened 3-6-5. Colorado has gone 30-20-6 since then, and Barrie is a plus-5.
"Defensively, early in the season, we were not comfortable to play him against the top two lines," Roy said. "Recently, he's playing really well defensively. I think if you have a good mix when to go and not to go, that will save some energy and allow him to play better defensively."
It's been a disappointing season for the Avalanche, who have won 11 of their past 15 games but are in danger of missing the playoffs.
"Our team has had some ups and downs, but we're playing pretty good right now," Barrie said. "We still have a chance. I'm trying to do my part, be consistent bringing some offense from the back end, jumping into the play and helping the forwards out."
The Avalanche have a stable of skilled forwards and an exceptional goalie, Semyon Varlamov, but the offense slipped this season and defense remains an Achilles' heel. Colorado is building it around Barrie and Erik Johnson, who was having his best season until he injured his knee and had surgery Jan. 26. Prospects Chris Bigras, Mason Geertsen and Duncan Siemens are expected to help upgrade the defense in the not-too-distant future.
Sixteen-year NHL veteran Brad Stuart, 35, has been a mentor to Barrie and Johnson, a role he plans to continue; he's signed through 2016-17.
"When you're a young defenseman, I think it's the toughest position to become an everyday player, maybe besides a goaltender," Stuart said. "I definitely try to help guys, but as a veteran your biggest contribution is going out every night and putting it on the line. It doesn't always have to be anything you say.
"A player like Tyson, he has great offensive instincts and I've seen him take a more conscious approach to playing defense. That's what's going to take him to the next level."