LOVELAND – Justin Barron has just emerged from the Colorado Eagles locker room, freshly showered, dressed in the standard hockey player outfit of dark slacks and sportcoat. He’s just finished playing in a game in which the Eagles lost 10-3 to the Stockton Heat (Flames AHL affiliate), a game in which he had no points and was a minus-3. So, no, he didn’t come bounding out of the room laughing and joking.
Yet, Barron is enough of a pro by now, even at the tender age of 20, to know this was just one of those nights. Despite the terrible showing by the team, the Eagles maintain a 30-18-4-3 record, and Barron has 20 points in 43 games for the Eagles, still a plus-10. Things are going well, by all accounts, in his first pro season after being drafted 25th overall by the Avalanche in the 2020 NHL draft.
Barron, a former captain of the Halifax Mooseheads (same junior team as Nathan MacKinnon) and member of the Canadian 2021 World Junior team, would seem to be a probable fixture on future Avalanche teams. Yet, his name appeared in trade rumors all week, in connection with a potential deal for Claude Giroux – who ended up going to Florida in a deal earlier today.
Personally, I never actually heard from anyone I trust that Barron was actually offered up to the Flyers as part of a possible deal for Giroux. But there’s a line in one of my all-time favorite movies, Robert Altman’s “The Player”, starring Tim Robbins, in which he’s a movie studio exec hearing he might be on the way out and asks his lawyer, played by Sidney Pollack, about it.
“You know rumors are always true,” Pollack says.
No, rumors aren’t always true in hockey – far from it. But, you catch my drift a little here. Just because the deal didn’t happen doesn’t mean the rumors weren’t true – at least at one point. Barron, like every single other player that has ever played in the NHL just about, will have to deal with trade rumors sometimes. That’s just part of life in pro sports.
So, what did Barron think of his first dosey doe with the rumor mill (and, by the way, the trade deadline isn’t over until Monday)?
“There’s always rumblings, especially with the Avs. They’re such a good team this year,” Barron said. “They’re really going for it this year. So, but really, I try not to think about it. Didn’t really think about it too much. I’m happy to be here with the Avalanche organization.”
I’ve written already today that I think it would be foolish to trade a prospect like Barron for a rental, especially after the Avs just dealt another promising D prospect, Drew Helleson. The kid has a lot of good tools. He’s got pretty good size (6-1, about 200) and has pretty good wheels. He can shoot the puck on the power play, and from what I’ve seen of him live, he generally makes good decisions in his own end zone. He’s been caught behind the play a couple times (he was caught flat-footed at his own blue line in one sequence tonight, where a Heat player had a mini-breakaway, though Justus Annunen made the save – one of his few, in an otherwise very rough outing before being pulled for Hunter Miska).
He’s going to get ample chances to make it with the Avs. Heck, he’s already played two games with Colorado, in December, against Nashville and the Rangers. But he needs more reps probably at the AHL level. He probably needs to keep working on his skating and maybe just fully developing when it comes to size and strength. But the tools are there.
How would he assess his own season so far?
“I was happy with my training camp and being one of the last cuts. I thought I had a bit of a slow start here, but I think I’ve made progress as the season’s gone on,” said Barron, who hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia. “I think, maybe the last month-and-a-half, two months, it’s probably been my best hockey. I’ve gotta keep working and keep trending in that direction. There’s still lots of things I can work on. Coming out of junior, the guys are a lot faster, a lot bigger. It’s been pretty good so far, but I gotta keep working.”
Barron called the two games he played with the Avs “a dream come true, it was pretty cool.”
“I think it kind of took a week or two to sink in, to realize that it actually happened,” he said. “Obviously, the goal is to get back there.”
With the Eagles – Saturday night’s result notwithstanding – Barron thinks they can make a run at the Calder Cup.
“I really do. Aside from tonight, I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey lately,” Barron said. “At the start of the year, there were a lot of callups. But they’ve been pretty healthy lately, so we have a lot of great players on our team right now. Hopefully, we can climb up the standings one or two more spots to finish the regular season and then really make a run in the playoffs.”