It's been six years since the Tampa Bay Lightning spent a 6th round pick (152nd overall) on Mark Barberio in 2008, and while the young offensive defenseman has progressed well so far in his career, he won't really be that "young" for much longer as this is his final year of eligibility for the Top 25 Under 25 series.
At 24 years of age, it's time for Mark Barberio to take the next step and seize a permanent role on the Lightning blue line; if he doesn't, 2013-14 might be his last year in the organization.
Here's how the panel ranked him following his first year in the NHL:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clare Austin||Mike Gallimore||Clark Brooks|
Last Year's Rank: 11
So, a noticeable falloff for Barberio, once the prized possession in terms of Lightning defense prospects following some outstanding years in the AHL, including winning the Eddie Shore Award (AHL equivalent of the Norris Trophy) following the 2011-12 campaign with Tampa Bay's affiliate at the time, the Norfolk Admirals.
Many people who follow the Lightning were very high on Mark Barberio heading into 2013-14, and rightfully so -- those who had followed him closely during his time in the AHL saw a very skilled, well-rounded defensemen that was capable in his own zone and explosive in the offensive third:
After losing waiver exemption heading into the 2013-14 season, it was clear Barberio would remain up with the big club in some capacity, as there was little chance the team would risk losing a guy with such a sterling AHL record for nothing on waivers in order to send him down to the AHL once more. Spot duty on the third pairing and some second-unit power play time seemed likely, and that's basically what Barberio got in 49 games with the Lightning.
Just five goals and five assists in those 49 games is perhaps a bit underwhelming for a career 0.62 PPG player in the AHL, but he only logged about 14 minutes of 5v5 time per game with the Bolts and was a power play afterthought with just 0:17 seconds on the man advantage per game (just 14:32 of total power play time for the entire year). The truth is he didn't really get much of an opportunity to work on the Lightning's power play, with time instead going to guys like Matt Taormina, Mike Kostka, and puzzlingly, even Radko Gudas, who all got more total PP time and more time per game than Barberio.
Mark Barberio's most common partner at 5v5 was Eric Brewer (362:37 of time on ice spent together) and they were a usable third pairing but not a spectacular one. Both guys saw better puck possession numbers away from each other, and Barberio in particular exploded offensively away from Brewer -- his rate stats in terms of goals, assists, and shot attempts for all went through the roof in his 291:05 away from Brewer. Of course, it's difficult to determine how much of that is Barberio being weighted down by Brewer and how much is the simple fact that Barberio's second most common defense partner was Victor Hedman.
While Barberio sometimes looks less than smooth in terms of skating ability, and also seems to struggle with physical play around the net and in the corners, it's hard to argue with the results he got in a Lightning sweater in 49 games. He was sheltered, but no more than an average 6-7 defenseman in the NHL in terms of quality of competition and zone starts; he sported a 53.0% Corsi For, and helped the Lightning control the puck when he was on the ice (+2.5% Corsi Rel). All that plus some good luck in terms of percentages (Lightning goalies stopped 93.4% of shots when Barberio was on the ice at 5v5, which is pretty good but also pretty lucky) ended up with a very solid boxcar line of 5-5-10 +10. He will have to work on his discipline, as his inexperience showed in his -15 penalty differential, routinely needing to hack, slash, or hold an opposition forward in order to stop a scoring chance against.
Barberio's one-year extension for the 2014-15 season was announced during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and it's not lazy analysis to call it a "show-me" deal. Barberio has a year to show he deserves a bigger investment from the team that drafted and developed him. If he remains nothing more than a quality depth NHLer, he'll likely be let go next summer. But if he can take the next step, carve out a role on one of the power play units, and have the same success in the NHL that he had in the AHL, he might just become a permanent fixture on the suddenly crowded Lightning blue line, particularly with Eric Brewer's contract expiring after this season.