Prospect of the Week: January 20, 2014

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for January 20, 2014 is … Mark Barberio, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

“Finally.“

That word could be used for a multitude of things this week: Finally, a defenseman wins our Prospect of the Week award; finally, he’s cutting his hair; or finally, he scored his first NHL goal. Any way you look at it, it’s all about Lightning rookie defenseman Mark Barberio, who actually scored his first two NHL goals on Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Barberio, the former AHL Eddie Shore Plaque winner for best defenseman, has had a rough rookie season for the Lightning. As an offense-first defenseman, he’s been learning how to play defense-first in the NHL and it hasn’t been always been going well. Sure, Barberio has looked like an NHLer in the offensive third, showing the passing and vision that helped him to 61 points as a second year professional with Norfolk and 42 points a year later with Syracuse as a Second Team All-Star. But there are three zones and in the other two he’s looked like a newborn deer trying to walk… on ice.

However, despite the giveaways, down-low coverage struggles, and occasional ill-timed pinches, his effort has been consistent. Rookie mistakes made through effort are easier to handle. Coach Jon Cooper – who coached Barberio in Norfolk and Syracuse – has used the power play as a carrot in front of Barberio as a reward for strong play in all three zones and only recently has Barberio reached the reward.

The Montreal native and former Moncton Wildcat has seen his power play time rise, which has increased his overall confidence. On Saturday against San Jose, Barberio played perhaps his best game as an NHLer; he was effective in all three zones and helped push the play on several key occassions. On Sunday, he was rewarded with power play time and used the opportunity to sneak down the weakside to take a pass from Alex Killorn and pocket his first NHL goal. A period later he scored again, ripping a slapper from the high slot that deflected into the top corner of the net.

As far as we’re concerned, the goals are icing on the cake for Barberio, as it’s his overall play that has improved tremendously from the start of the season. If he can keep that development arrow pointing up, the Lightning become that much more dangerous as the playoff push gets serious. Barberio was arguably the engine for Cooper’s Norfolk Admirals championship machine two years ago, starting rushes with outlet passes and joining rushes as a fourth forward.

The only downside to Barberio’s goals – in this person’s opinion – is he vowed to cut his magnificent mane if he scored his first NHL goal. He reportedly has been growing his hair for two years. We’ll give him the Prospect of the Week award anyway.

For the year, Barberio has two goals and five assists for seven points in 32 games. His plus-15 rating while playing on the Lightning’s third pair is second among NHL rookies behind Hampus Lindholm of Anaheim’s plus-25.

Barberio projects as high as a second pair defenseman, provided he’s effective in all three zones. It takes a defenseman about 250 games to fully develop, so he’s got a ways to go before official labels can be applied.

We like the direction he’s headed. Finally.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Drouin, C (Halifax, QMJHL).

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

January 13: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
January 6: Ondrej Palat, LW, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 17: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 10: Ondrej Palat, W, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)