What to Expect from Mark Barberio

In the old days of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Mark Barberio may be a 2-year veteran at this point in his career.

The Lightning had little organizational depth and if prospects showed flashes of NHL ability, they were called up to the big club and thrown to the proverbial wolves.

When new general manager Steve Yzerman took over, he changed all that, and Barberio is a prime example of his player development philosophy.

Barberio exited Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a finalist for the league’s top defenseman award, and in the second half of his rookie season started to show flashes of being an NHL defenseman some day. Under previous regimes and former organizational rosters, Barberio may have been rushed to Tampa. If not then, then surely he would be given a legitimate chance the following training camp.

Not so now.

Yzerman left Barberio in the minors last year and all he did was lead all AHL defenseman in scoring and win the league’s Eddie Shore Award as top blueliner.

And that still wasn’t enough to get him to the NHL.

Barberio didn’t sulk when a numbers game forced him to remain in AHL Syracuse instead of joining NHL Tampa this January. He continued round out the small details of his game and serve as the engine that sparks the Crunch’s offense from the backline.

Norfolk’s championship in 2012 was a complete team effort, but like Dan Boyle of the Lightning in the mid-2000’s, Barberio played an integral part of the team’s success.

When the Lightning trimmed down to six defensemen at the trade deadline, the thought was either a new acquisition was coming in or Barberio was coming up. If there was a trade, it fell through, and Barberio was left in Syracuse instead of being called up. Then, when Victor Hedman suffered an injury, Matt Taormina got the call from the Crunch instead of Barberio, perhaps because of his NHL experience – necessary for the team’s run to the playoffs.

The Lightning’s last two games involved third period rallies without Hedman and therefore few capable players able to act as a fourth forward and lead the rush by pass or push.

One wonders how many times in the last two games new Lightning coach Jon Cooper – Barberio’s coach for every game of his professional career – wished he had his team engine.

Barberio’s first year of pro hockey was Cooper’s first year with Norfolk and Barberio has grown with Cooper in his young career. Cooper puts a priority on getting defensemen involved in the offense and Barberio has played that role to a T in the last three years.

The 23-year-old has played in 70 games this season with the Crunch, posting eight goals and 40 points to go along with 44 penalty minutes and a plus-7 rating. He ranks third for assists (32) and fifth for points among AHL defensemen. The Montreal, Quebec native leads all Crunch defensemen in goals, assists and points. Of his eight goals this season, five have been recorded while on the man-advantage.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman has skated in 212 career AHL games with the Crunch and Norfolk Admirals, posting 30 goals and 132 points with 111 penalty minutes. He registered two goals and nine points in 18 games during the 2012 playoffs.

Barberio was drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round, 152nd overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

We rank Barberio No. 7 among Bolt prospects.

What to expect

Barberio is a hard working, puck-moving defenseman with elite on-ice vision. He understands the offensive side of the game and acts like a quarterback from the blueline both at even strength and on the power play. He is smart about picking his spots to shoot and distributes the puck with precision.

His confidence grow in all areas of the ice in the last three years, especially in the offensive third. The best point producers have a swagger about them and Barberio has developed this.

Barberio fell to the sixth round of the draft because of a slight frame and he had a moderately awkward skating stride that some scouts felt that it would hinder his development. He also hadn’t had a lot of prime ice time and scouts didn’t foresee him breaking out the way he did.

He worked hard to turn his skating from a question to a relative strength, and now there is nothing that stands out negatively about his mobility. He has taken each moment of increased responsibility in stride and become a team leader on and off the ice.

Defensively, Barberio has improved his game considerably from his time in Moncton and he is no longer a liability on the ice. He is not a physical player, but will throw a hit when needed.

He had a nice hip check against Hershey on Saturday night.

Barberio has worked well with fellow prospect Radko Gudas in Norfolk and Syracuse and the two could be a common pair in the years to come for Tampa Bay.

Future

Considering the current situations with the Lightning and Crunch, it’s hard to predict if Barberio will be up for the duration of the NHL season or he gets a few games and is sent to help the Crunch before or during the first round of the AHL playoffs. Beyond this year, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Barberio isn’t a permanent addition to the Bolts.

It’s time.

With the Lightning having an eye toward next year – and a top-4, puck-moving defenseman will be needed for 2013-2014 – the team likely wants to see what it has in Barberio at the NHL level before entering the off-season’s free agency period. If Barberio excels, it could minimize the Lightning’s need to spend cap dollars on a free agent or export assets via trade.

If Barberio struggles – especially in his own zone – he could be brought along slowly on the third pair until he hurdles the next obstacle in his way.

Either way, he’s a part of the team’s future.

At the least, Barberio can make a career as a power play asset used as a 6/7 defenseman similar to Marc-Andre Bergeron the last two years. He has the ability to be a 45-point defenseman at the NHL level in the right system, and Cooper employs that system.

That will take some time, but the former sixth rounder has proven he's patient.

From earlier this year: Barberio Wants More Wins