The Montreal Canadiens filled a significant need on their back-end by acquiring Justin Barron from the Colorado Avalanche before the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday afternoon.
The Canadiens acquired the former 2020 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft in exchange for veteran winger Artturi Lehkonen. Although Lehkonen was a well-liked player in Montreal, Justin Barron was precisely the type of prospect that could get the Montreal Canadiens to pull the trigger on trading their two-way forward.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Montreal Canadiens’ newest prospect, Montreal Hockey Now was able to talk with Colorado Eagles head coach Greg Cronin to discuss his thoughts on Barron’s development while under his tenure with the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate. The full interview below.
Montreal Hockey Now: How would you go about describing Justin Barron?
Greg Cronin: As a person, he’s a real quality guy. He’s a good teammate, very coachable and just a very low-maintenance person. He comes from a good family and has a good value system. He’s humble and coachable, and I’ve enjoyed working with him.
MHN: What about as a player?
GC: He’s a very interesting player. I coached with Randy Carlyle a few years ago, and his gauge was, after 240 games, be it AHL/NHL, you kind of get a grip on what a player is. During those 240 games, players will develop and mature into an identity as a player, so it’s hard to really identify what he is at this stage.
As a defenseman, he’s unique because he can be a shutdown D because of the size, the reach and the athleticism, but he can also chip in offensively because he’s got good sense, good hands and a good shot. I think he does a lot of things well; it’s more a question of what is he going to do really well to help him distinguish himself and creates that unique identity.
MHN: How was the adaptation period going from junior to the AHL?
GC: I think he’s at the beginning of his maturation. People underestimate when a player goes from, say Halifax, to an AHL locker room. It’s a big transition there, socially. He’s the star of his team in Halifax; he’s probably being treated and coached differently than in the AHL or NHL, where there are already stars on the roster.
That’s why the Avalanche brought him in this year. It accelerates that process because you’re playing against better players; there’s a better IQ on the ice and a more demanding schedule. During that time, you’ll be able to identify strengths and weaknesses, but what you don’t know is how quickly they’re going to respond to coaching that’s trying to promote that growth. This just exposes young players more rapidly to that reality.
He’s a great kid. He’s going to do everything in his power to be a Montreal Canadiens. I can guarantee that.
MHN: What does he need to work on the most?
GC: He needs to play aggressively, play with an aggressive edge, not just being physical, but that aggressive style. Whether it’s carrying the puck up the ice, going back for breakouts, getting decisive with the decision-making, once he does that naturally, I think he’ll grow quickly.
That’s just part of maturity. He hasn’t been doing that his whole career because he hasn’t had to. He has the size and the strength and the attributes to kind of roll off forecheckers or take his time on an exit pass, but at this time of year, in the AHL, the game gets quicker, and it becomes hard for players who lack that aggressiveness or pace.
I feel like that is what he needs to get more comfortable doing.
MHN: Have you seen an improvement in his pacing since he’s made the jump to the AHL?
GC: His pace has picked up, and it’s got to continue to pick up, and he knows that. His pace and aggressiveness have improved, and, when he does it very well, he’s very visible on the ice in a good way.
He’ll play 3-4 games where he plays with speed up the ice, and he’s physical, and then he’ll play another couple of games and not be as physical. That’s really a reflection of the growth in his game, because you can see he’s picking it up quick, but he’s just got to get more consistent in playing that way.
MHN: How do you feel about his transition ability as a defenceman?
GC: He’s a really good skater. He can transition easily from the defensive zone into the neutral zone and offensive zone. He’s also a powerful skater. He’s a big kid, all of 6’2 and about 205lbs. He’s well put together; a very good prospect. They got a real nice defenceman to work with.
MHN: When it came time to decide how to utilize him, how did you deploy him on the ice?
GC: We used him in every situation. That’s what you do in the AHL with a 1st round pick. You get him on in every situation as much as possible, unless they’re really struggling. Barron never really struggled or fell into survival mode; he adapted pretty well.
Once you expose him to all those situations, then you start to increase the minutes and sharpen the role to his strengths.
MHN: So, when it comes to Barron’s progress, it’s more about consistency and learning the pro game, rather than an issue in his game?
GC: Just about learning good habits, right? This is true of every player. So the more he’ll play with pace, the more visible he’ll be, and he knows that. He’s a kid (laughs); that’s why he’s in the minors learning how to be a consistent pro. He’s going to work himself up to that level.
He’s got good offensive flair to him, and he’s also big enough to defend quite well, so the tools are there, and he just has to mature. He certainly has the tools to be a solid piece of the puzzle.