If you like defensemen that skate well, then this draft is for you.
As I’ve explored before, this year’s draft class is very deep, especially at the forward positions. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting defensemen as well. At the top of the list would be Jamie Drysdale, however, the Flyers don’t really have a shot at all to draft him. He is projected to almost certainly be taken in the top ten.
That leaves a few players who realistically the Flyers could realistically have a shot at taking if they want to go for a defenseman, and in honesty, they aren’t too different stylistically from Drysdale. The defense class this year all have noted upsides regarding their skating ability, with most being classed as “mobile defenders”. Especially as forwards (and the NHL as a whole) get stronger and faster, having defensemen who can keep up is crucially important. Especially in the mid 2000’s, the Flyers have so publicly reminded us of that (Mike Rathje).
Justin Barron is no exception to this seemingly present rule. While he has many assets to his game, above and beyond he is noted for his slick skating. No scouting report I have seen expresses any concern about his ability to handle NHL speed. Where there appears to be more divergence is in some of the skill components of his game, which are mildly concerning, but aren’t something Baron can’t overcome. He’s been compared to Charlie McAvoy, which stylistically I can see. Barron, though, has less of a tendency to hit, but when he does you notice (more on that later).
What do the stats say?
It’s hard to judge Barron based on his 2019-20 season since he spent a large portion of it injured. From what I’ve seen however, he did look like himself when he was able to return to action, and that the lesser production shouldn’t worry NHL clubs too much.
He played in 34 games in the QMJHL this season, scoring 19 points (four of which were goals). This comes after a stellar 2018-19 where he scored 41 points in 68 games. He gets a lot of primary and secondary assists from his wrist shot from the point. He’s good at keeping his shot low as for forwards to tip and deflect the puck, and often because of that, he winds up on the scoresheet.
Justin Barron doesn’t give up. Shots from the point. Delivers a quality one. Zach Jones from Bridgewater, Mass deflects it in. Barron showing how explosive he can be from the point. #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/II2WIFcB28— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) September 28, 2019
His offensive numbers aren’t eye-popping, they’re just okay. Barron can contribute from the point, but he isn’t going to be your PP1 defenseman, nor is he going to score for fun like Erik Karlsson or with a bomb from the point like Shayne Gostisbehere. That translates into the concern that some have with Barron, but there are other parts to his game that make him intriguing.
The Eye Test
As I mentioned in the very beginning of this article, Barron is a very very good skater. He uses this to his advantage at both ends of the ice. While he doesn’t do it as often as one would like, Barron’s skating, along with his size (6’2”, 187 lbs) allows him to be very effective when leading the rush. When he circles around and starts wheeling it up his own zone and into neutral ice, he’s like a freight train. He reminds me a lot of Ivan Provorov when he gets going in this way, and I’d love to see more of it. Barron similarly can wheel into the offensive zone and get defenders to become wary of him. Plays for forwards can open up this way.
Barron also uses his speed to close down gaps on defense and can cover effectively. He makes the correct play most of the time and is solid defensively. To that end though, he doesn’t make a lot of risky plays that you may want a rushing defenseman to make. He is much more of a defensive-defenseman with speed, but again, this isn’t a bad thing. He uses that speed with good defensive reads and awareness to limit opposing forwards.
This leads into what I mainly wanted to talk about: his offensive game. Don’t get me wrong, Barron isn’t a dead weight on offense. However, there has been concern as to whether or not he has enough skill to be able to move the puck at an NHL level. From what I’ve seen, Barron could go either way. He is a good passer and doesn’t make a ton of errors on the blue line, but doesn’t make many standout plays either. To summarize, he isn’t a detractor on offense, but he doesn’t always provide a ton of value there.
Despite that, however, even if his offensive game never fully develops, you aren’t going to be looking at another Robert Hagg. Barron is a better skater and is actually capable of leading the rush and making simple plays that aren’t clearing the puck out of the zone off the glass. At the very least, he could be an upgrade at the 7th defenseman slot, and a solid enough 3rd pair guy. If he can figure things out with regards to his offense, he could become the more defensively oriented guy on the first pair. That’s quite a lot of variance.
Oh, and how could I forget. Barron isn’t a very physical defenseman, or rather he isn’t physical very often, but he is a very good hitter. This isn’t a Hagg situation where you never see his hits. You SEE Barron’s hits.
Overall, though you may not be getting a future power play blue-liner like the Flyers hope they have with Cam York, for example, Barron is a different, complimentary, type of defenseman that would pair well with a more offensively oriented player. Barron’s upside shows in his skating and his ability to read plays defensively. If the Flyers want to pick a defenseman, Barron wouldn’t be a bad choice.