Justin Barron Seizing His Opportunity

In life, you can wait a long time to get your opportunity but when you do, it’s important that you do everything in your power to make the most of it. There is no way that Justin Barron could have done that with the Colorado Avalanche this season, or maybe even next year. Not with the quality and depth that they have at their blue line. When traded to Montreal in a package for Artturi Lehkonen, he was going to an organization where their biggest need was for right-handed defensemen.

Not only was he traded to a team in need of players like him, he walked into perhaps the best situation he could have imagined. With the team in the basement of the NHL, the Canadiens had brought in a coach in Martin St-Louis who had for mission to allow for better development and giving management the opportunity to better assess what they had on hand. Mistakes are not important, even if they result in goals against, young players would be given enough rope to make the most of it or to hang themselves. The key from the coaching staff’s perspective was for them to learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating the same ones over and over.

Immediate impact

It didn’t take long for Barron to get his feet wet. In his very first game against the New Jersey Devils, the coaching staff played him just shy of 18 minutes that game. He managed three shots on goal with no time on special teams. While not perfect, the 20 year-old did leave a good first impression. In fact, only Alexander Romanov (24:05), David Savard (22:40) and Joel Edmundson (18:27) played more than Barron. But unlike the rookie, they all had time on special teams.

The competition got more serious for the next three games. The Canadiens were visiting three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams as they were visiting the Panthers, the Hurricanes and the Lightning. Amazingly enough, Barron faired quite well against top opposition with the Habs not having the last change.

PP TOI0:000:532:420:531:471:15
SH TOI0:002:411:160:000:340:54

Amazingly enough, Barron was trusted for three shifts in overtime in New Jersey and two more shifts in overtime against Tampa Bay.

Playing at the Bell Centre for the first time, Barron did well, managing five shots on goal. Scoring his first NHL goal on home ice is something fans made sure the young defenseman would never forget. They made it even more memorable by giving him a standing ovation. Boy is it good to see that rink rocking with fans again!

In five games so far, Barron is first amongst defensemen in shots on goal (13), second in points (1 back of Chris Wideman) and fourth in ice time, 11 seconds fewer than Joel Edmundson. Not bad for a first impression at 20 years old, isn’t it? Now imagine him on the blue line paired with Kaiden Guhle in the future.

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Kent Hughes So Far

With trade deadline passed and gone, we can say that Kent Hughes’ step one in his quest to revamp the Canadiens’ line-up is behind him. The next big step for the teams new General Manager will be in the summer, in the months leading up to the NHL Draft, event held in Montreal this summer.

Hughes traded three of his six pending UFAs as Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak and Andrew Hammond have all found new homes to finish the season. Only Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette are still with the organization with which they singed last summer.

The Canadiens’ GM also traded two key components of his team who weren’t unrestricted free agents. Tyler Toffoli is tearing it up in Calgary, where he was traded a few weeks ago. On trade deadline day, dressing room favourite Artturi Lehkonen said his goodbyes to his teammates and will try to win the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.

Ensemble of his work

So far since being hired, Hughes has traded seven players. He got seven players back in return, as well as seven draft picks and some future considerations. Amongst the draft picks, two are in the first round and two are in the second round.

Brandon BaddockAndrew Hammond
Tyler ToffoliTyler PitlickUFA
Michael McNivenEmil Heineman#43 in 2020
Ben ChiarotTy Smilanic#74 in 2020
Andrew HammondNate Schnarr#75 in 2017
Brett KulakWilliam Lagesson#91 in 2014
Artturi LehkonenJustin Barron#25 in 2020
1st rd pick 2022 CGY (cond)Could be 2023
1st rd pick 2023 FLA
2nd rd pick 2022 EDM
2nd rd pick 2024 COL
4th rd pick 2022 FLA
5th rd pick 2025 CGY
7th rd pick 2024 EDM
Future considerations CGY

Amongst the players he received, only Andrew Hammond (who was trade away as well), Tyler Pitlick (cousin of Rem and Rhett), a pending UFA thrown in for cap reason, and William Lagesson (26) are over the age of 25. Only one of the younger players is a well known prospect in right-handed defenseman Justin Barron. But Hughes and his VP of Hockey Ops Geoff Gorton know Emil Heineman and Ty Smilanic quite well and they like what they bring to the table. Fans will have a better idea when they get to see them at rookie camp and compare them to the other team’s prospects.

All in all, the consensus is that Hughes has done quite well so far. Gorton and him can now continue focussing on their team on the ice, evaluating what they have, and draw up a plan for the summer months. They have some big decisions and moves to make, none perhaps bigger than trading disgruntled Jeff Petry and determining the status of Carey Price. They also must continue making changes in scouting and player development.

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