Eye on the Future: Riley Barber, Miami

Matt Christians

Examining the pro potential of Washington Capitals draft pick Riley Barber.

On Tuesday, we took a look at the future potential of Miami's Austin Czarnik. But it's impossible to look at Czarnik without examining his partner-in-crime, Riley Barber. The two are on the ice together for nearly every shift they take. Last Friday, by my count, Czarnik took one extra shift with Miami's second power play unit, and that was the only time Czarnik and Barber weren't on the ice at the same time, with each seeing over 20 minutes of ice time.

And those two are attached at the hip for good reason. They each have 15 points on the season, which puts them tied for third in the country in scoring. Of the fifteen times each player has showed up on the scoresheet, there's only three instances for each where the other also didn't have a hand in on the goal.

Barber, like Czarnik, has clearly established himself as a premier college hockey player. But what about his future at the next level? Once again, we'll take an in-depth look into how he played on November 7th against St. Cloud, a game that Miami won 2-0.

Barber has a little more of a traditional profile for an NHL prospect than Czarnik does. Barber is a '94 birthdate that was drafted in his first year of draft eligibility in 2012, in the 6th round, 167th overall by the Washington Capitals. He is also closer to prototypical NHL size. He's listed by Miami at 6'0" 198 lbs. I suspect the 6'0" is a bit of an exaggeration, but he probably wouldn't be looking up at a number of players listed at 6'0" in the NHL.

While Czarnik works in all three zones, Barber is more of a pure offensive player. His effort on the back-check was okay, but nothing spectacular. Part of that is because Barber isn't the fastest, most graceful skater. He's going to have to work hard and improve just to be an average skater at the pro level.

When Miami got possession of the puck in their own end, Barber was always the first out of the zone, trying to stretch the defense. Part of that is probably by design, with Miami playing to the strengths of their players. But overall, Barber doesn't bring a whole lot to the table when he's not scoring.

The good news is that Barber is an incredibly talented and prolific scorer. He finished the evening with just a single goal, but was involved in a number of quality scoring chances for Miami.

In the first period, he led a 3-on-2 into the St. Cloud zone, where he made a nice cross pass to linemate Jimmy Mullin, who dropped the puck off to a wide-open Austin Czarnik, but Czarnik mishandled the puck, and managed only a feeble shot. Barber set up another scoring chance later in the period when he chipped the puck into the corner. He was able to dig the puck out of a scrum in the corner and fired a beautiful no-look backhand pass out of the corner to a player at the point for an open point shot.

When Miami went on a 5-minute major power play in the final minute of the period, Barber took all three of his shot attempts in the period. All three shots came from around the top of the left circle; two of the shots ended up on net, while the third was blocked by the defense. Barber did an excellent job firing a low, hard shot into traffic that created an excellent rebound attempt for a teammate standing in front of the goalie.

In the second period, Barber registered another shot on the power play. This time, he was just to the right of the crease. He took a pass from the point and tried to jam the puck in, but was stopped. He generally showed pretty good poise on the power play, but a few times, when really pressured along the boards, he panicked and threw blind passes to no one in particular, which led to clears of the zone.

His best scoring chance of the second period came when he created a two-on-one opportunity, but he completely air-mailed his pass across to a teammate, which caused the puck to float harmlessly to the corner.

Barber only had one shot attempt in the third period, but it was a big one. Barber's line had just completed a shift which ended with a face-off in the St. Cloud zone. But because there was a TV timeout, Miami was able to put that line back out on the ice, as they like to do with offensive zone face-offs coming off timeouts. Austin Czarnik won a face-off that slowly rolled back to Barber at the top of the circles. Barber fired a wicked wrister that hit off a post and beat St. Cloud goalie Ryan Faragher to give Miami a 2-0 lead. Here's video of the goal:

That's a big league shot to get that type of power and accuracy off such a quick release.

So what does all that mean in terms of pro potential? To continue our comparison with teammate Austin Czarnik, Barber feels like he has a much higher variability in terms of whether or not he'll actually make it to the NHL, but at the same time, I think he's got a much higher ceiling in terms of potential than Czarnik does.

Because of his style of play, Barber feels like the type of player that is either going to break through as a top six forward in the NHL, or be a very good career minor leaguer. Since being a sixth round draft choice two years ago, Barber has only improved his stock with two excellent seasons at Miami, so he's definitely showing an upward trend on his development, which is a positive sign. He definitely has some offensive talents that can't be taught. It might just be a matter of ending up in the right situation where he is able to put them to good use.

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