The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a rebuild, and for Kent Hughes and Co., this means prioritizing development over short-term success. It also affords the opportunity to give prospects a chance to play in the best league in the world, should they prove ready.
With that in mind, here is a Canadiens prospect who could be knocking at the proverbial door, as the team cements its opening night roster.
Who is Montreal Canadiens Prospect, Justin Barron?
This 6’2, 202 lbs, right-handed defenceman was chosen 25th overall in the 2020 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche, before being traded to Montreal via the Artturi Lehkonen trade at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
The 21-year-old prospect is entering the last year of his entry-level contract- (ELC), taking him to restricted free agent (RFA) status at the conclusion of the 23-24 season.
Slow And Steady Progression
Barron spent most of the 21-22 season (one full season after being drafted) with the Avalanche’s AHL team where he scored 5 goals, adding 15 assists (20 pts) in 43 games (for 0.47 PPG). He then played 5 games with Montreal until a lower-body injury ended his season.
The Halifax native began the following season with the Laval Rocket, notching 16 pts in 25 games, improving his AHL PPG pace to 0.64, which was tied for first among Rocket defencemen.
While getting a healthy dose of powerplay minutes helped sharpen his offensive game, he was also a 5-on-5 minute-muncher for Jean-François Houle, securing an invite to the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic in the process.
Confidence can do wonders, and a successful half-season in the AHL helped the young defenceman when he joined the Canadiens for the second half of the 22-23 season, tallying 15 pts in 39 games and looking like he belonged in the best league in the world, on most nights.
Justin Barron’s first goal of the season pic.twitter.com/pCH7zUPybP
— Habs Fan TV (@HabsFanTV_) February 11, 2023
Barron has impressive mobility, great shooting abilities, considerable size, and smart offensive instincts.
His first NHL goal is a prime example of what he can bring to the table for the Montreal Canadiens.
Watch as he joins the attack, backs smoothly atop the offensive zone, and ultimately zips a perfect wrister to beat the goalie. This is the type of play only offensive defencemen and powerplay quarterbacks execute so well.
In Laval, we also saw more of the puck-moving style of play he can excel at, as he would win board battles, skate the puck out of his zone (or wire a crisp pass) before joining the rush. His speed allowed him to burn forwards caught behind him, creating odd-man opportunities.
He’s been able to do it at times in the NHL, too, just not as consistently.
Justin Barron gets his first goal as a Rocket!
Anthony Richard with a massive assist on the play to give Laval a 3-1 lead! pic.twitter.com/tgX38DjA9q
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 29, 2022
Areas to improve
Defencemen tend to take longer to develop, and Justin Barron is no exception. At age 21, patience will be essential for fans and management.
We saw glimpses of his offensive prowess and shutdown capabilities in the NHL, but he can sometimes look out of his depths.
Offensively, he could improve on his deceptiveness, and avoid skating in straight lines with the puck, or making predictable passes or shots.
Defensively, he will have to be better at boxing opponents out, closing the gap on rushing forwards, and ultimately, at all the quick reads that make a shutdown defenceman effective in the NHL. Barron can also get into trouble when he has too much time to think, particularly during breakouts.
The other thing is – and the old-school hockey enthusiasts will agree on this one – he could be much more physical given his stature. Barron isn’t soft, but for a guy his size, he could be meaner along the boards, or at least, put his Bauer sponsorship to good use by bending/breaking a few sticks, discouraging venturing wingers in front of his goaltender.
However, the tools are definitely there.
It is clear why the Canadiens were coveting him, as he de facto became the top offensive-minded D prospect in their system, at the time of his acquisition.
Odds of making the team
With Chris Wideman injured indefinitely, the right side of the Habs’ defence has a wide-open spot for a young player like Barron.
Given he’s paid his dues with the farm team and has considerably grown his pro game there, it would appear as if it is his job to lose.
However, Barron is waiver-exempt and could be sent to Laval without consequences.
If another young right-handed prospect such as Logan Mailloux or Gustav Lindstrom were to steal his thunder at camp, Kent Hughes could very well be tempted to send him down, once again.
Martin St. Louis could also elect to use a smart, left-handed defenceman like Jordan Harris on his off-side if he chooses to keep his top-4 LD, in Matheson, Guhle, Harris, and Xhekaj – to Barron’s imaginable disappointment.
The battle for this position could be fiercely fought until the very end of training camp. But Habs faithful, rejoice – that is the sign of a healthy defensive prospect pipeline!
Do you think Justin Barron will make the Montreal Canadiens opening-night roster? Let us know in the comments below!