Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects. This week: Justin Barron with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Justin Barron's junior hockey experience has been about as ideal as possible.
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 17-year-old defenseman and top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft is in his third season with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He gets to live at home and attend high school with the same friends he grew up with.
"It's special," Barron said. "Growing up as a kid in Halifax, the Mooseheads are the big thing there. Growing up a fan, watching and then getting picked by your hometown team, it was surreal and it's been a great experience so far. ... Living at home is pretty good, getting to go to my high school. I'm looking forward to another year here."
Barron grew up rooting for Halifax teams that produced several current NHL stars in the early part of the decade.
"Obviously (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Jonathan) Drouin, that 2013 team was really special," Barron said of the 2012-13 Halifax team that won the Memorial Cup. "I really liked watching MacKenzie Weegar (Florida Panthers defenseman), good two-way defenseman, good skater, smart guy. You can see how well his game translates to the NHL, he just signed another contract there."
Barron chose to stay home rather than follow the path chosen by his older brother Morgan. The 20-year-old forward was selected by the New York Rangers in the sixth round (No. 174) of the 2017 NHL Draft and will be the captain this season, his third, at Cornell University.
"I think both routes are great," Justin said. "I don't think there's a better route to take. It's more the player's fit. ... I think it definitely was an option. When Halifax picked me it was pretty special and not a lot of kids get to do that, grow up playing for your home town. I felt it was a great fit for me being able to live at home and having a bit of a relationship with the coaching staff and organization."
Halifax certainly is happy with Barron's growth. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-shot defenseman has two assists in seven games this season and received an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its preliminary players to watch list.
Last season he had 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) and a plus-42 rating in 68 games and 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 23 QMJHL playoff games. He also had one assist in four games to help Halifax reach the championship game of the Memorial Cup.
"He's got excellent size, a strong frame and he's an NHL skater," Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. "Exceptional speed, quickness and mobility to gain advantage with puck pursuits and skating the puck and has an ultra-quick transition game. He always has his head up and has good awareness on plays, sees the ice and advances the puck quickly and effectively, and he executes the first pass to generate an odd-man rush or breakaway opportunity. He handles and moves the puck around effectively in all zones to set up plays and generate chances. He has excellent hands for a defenseman and possesses multiple shots that find the net. He's the definition of a complete package."
Barron also is well regarded for his maturity off the ice.
"He conducts himself, he acts, talks, like an adult," said Eric Veilleux, who coached Halifax last season and was named coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League on June 26. "Very mature. Still likes to have fun and smiles, but he seems to know what he's doing, and he certainly looks like it."
Veilleux said it didn't take him long after joining Halifax last season to see how important Barron was.
"I was clear when I started, I don't care where you were last year, top-two, -three, -four, it doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'm going to coach with what I see so the door was wide open for him or anybody else. His maturity level is off the chart, so I think he saw something there. I think he got it right off the bat and he got what he deserved.
"He was top-four all year long, and with injuries to one or two guys we were able to match him up against top lines all year long."
Barron was invited to play for Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase in August, the first step in earning a spot with Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"He's a young guy but he played very well," Canada coach Dale Hunter said Aug. 3. "I thought he hits but he's smart with the puck and moves pucks well and defends well. He had a very good camp."
Barron, who said he tries to pattern his game after St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, is focused on getting stronger and faster this season.
Veilleux has little doubt Barron will make whatever improvements are needed.
"If there's one thing he could improve it's his physicality," he said. "But after Christmas he was good at it, just needs to be better. He's a big body, he's fast. Most of the time he doesn't need to play physical. You can't hold that against him; he's not afraid. He's a gamer. He'll be first on the puck, he'll break it out. He's good. He'll be good."
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