Alex Barré-Boulet burst onto the pro hockey scene (after bursting onto the junior hockey scene as an overager). In his rookie season with the AHL Syracuse Crunch, “ABB” jumped right onto the top line and became one of their most lethal offensive and power play attackers. The 5’10” center/wing has had to prove himself at every level, going undrafted three times in a row. But now that he’s in the AHL under an NHL contract, he’s on the same footing as everyone else. And with the Tampa Bay Lightning in need of cheap scoring depth, ABB might already be on the path to the NHL within the next season or two.
ABB was a major find for the Lightning and Crunch. They essentially found an early- to mid-round draft pick three seasons into his development, and dropped him right into their pipeline. For nothing. Full credit to the scouting staff for yet another steal.
In his first summer in the Top 25 Under 25, ABB was given a timid 17th place finish in our rankings. The readers and writers didn’t know much about him and as a result placed him safely near the end of the young AHLer ranks. This season, after a solid 74 games of ABB in the organization, he’s solidly in the top-10 and looking ahead to the prospect in front of him on the depth chart. He’s not far off.
In terms of the voting, most of our writers had ABB between 9 and 11 with Acha and I voting him 14th and 17th respectively. I was quite low on ABB compared to others during this ballot because I still haven’t heard much about his two-way game and that’s always a sticking point for players getting from the AHL to the NHL. It’s harder to hide up there.
For me, I had ABB behind some other prospects who have also shown promise in the AHL but whom we’ve had some more time watching and thus some more certainty on. For example, he was behind Alex Volkov but the gap was very close. I mostly made my decision on age and how much more developing each of these prospects is going to have between now and when it’s time for them to make the NHL or not.
ABB had a great season, but he not only has less time to learn all aspects of the game at a pro level, but he also has less time in the AHL to show that last season’s output wasn’t an ABBerration. I’m not sure whether ABB can sustain what he did last season if he doesn’t have AHL leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe next to him. I’m sure we’ll find out one way or another this season, but until now I decided to stay on the cautious side of the tape.
ABB was great on the power play, racking up 17 goals and 10 assists with the man advantage last season in 74 games. That goes on top of his 17 even-strength goals and 24 even strength assists. Those numbers ranked him 11th in the AHL in even-strength points (tied fellow 22-year-old and Leafs second-round pick Jeremy Bracco). On the power play, he was first in the league in goals.
At first, I worried that ABB’s power play production was masking a somewhat mediocre offensive season at 5v5, but when I looked into the numbers, I did not find that at all. He was scoring solidly at a first-line rate and was putting up his points with goals, which is always good to see.
His 223 shots put him sixth in the league, averaging just over three per game. In his game log, ABB did not go more than one game without a shot. He failed to hit the net a grand total of SIX times in 74 games. That is astounding consistency. He reached his season high in shots in a game twice, testing the goaltender nine times against Binghamton in November and again versus Utica in January. In the Devils game, ABB needed nine shots to snap a nine-game goal-less streak that was eating him alive. That game broke the dam as he went on to score seven in his next 10 games.
This is him against the Toronto Marlies’ top line (Bracco and Chris Mueller) and their top defensive defenseman (Vincent LoVerde). The Marlies went to the Eastern Conference Final last spring after winning the Calder Cup the summer before and ABB did that to them. Also, for Crunch fans keeping track, Mueller is now on the Crunch after signing a one-year deal with the Lightning in the summer. Mueller is amazing on and off the ice and you will not hear me stop talking about him all season. I love him dearly.
ABB is a very creative player and he used a well-coached power play to show off what he can do. I won’t spoil the whole thing, but JustinG. wrote an amazing article breaking down ABB’s power play elusiveness and versatility. Basically, he can shoot, pass, or be anywhere on the ice whenever he needs to be and can play any role you ask of him. I highly recommend the article of which I took an excerpt from below:
As you can see from this goal, he isn’t afraid to let a shot go even if it isn’t from the best angle. He heads into Friday’s game against Cleveland with a team-leading 99 shots, and a majority of his goals have looked similar to this one. As the Crunch work the puck around, he puts himself in a position to be ready to shoot once it heads his way. He has a quick release and excellent accuracy. If there is room as the goalie tries to slide over, he will find it.
Here’s the video he’s talking about, along with some others:
This goal in particular was eye-opening. ABB’s tenacity to drive the net and still be able to follow the puck and bang it home is great to see. So often you can find junior hockey graduates like to stay in the perimeter where it’s safe, especially if they’re on the smaller side and haven’t been explicitly told by their coach to drive the net and get in the way like so many big players. For ABB to see the opportunity open up for himself and seize it is encouraging.
When most people see a small forward, they think of a playmaker. That’s just the stereotype. However, while ABB carries a very keen playmaking eye, he’s a shooter at heart. You can see this in the points spread that is mostly goals and the fact that he led the Crunch in goals by quite a fair margin ahead of the league’s leading scorer. ABB is a shooter. He’s not afraid to let it fly and see what happens.
If you look at his heat map from his 2018 season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL, you can see that ABB is consistently shooting from the middle of the ice and scoring goals on the power play from a variety of spots. He appeared to move to the wing in his rookie AHL season next to Verhaeghe, but he was still able to keep up the variety of looks, especially on the power play as talked about above.
I think ABB has a bit to learn in terms of taking on responsibility in his defensive game. I’d like to see him play center more often, but that might be hard since Mueller is now on the team and has been a 1C for much of his career in the AHL. I know ABB has the work ethic to get the job done, he just needs to show it some more. Perhaps some playing time on the penalty kill will help with that. It couldn’t hurt.
“Barré-Boulet is a smallish forward standing at just 5-foot-10, though he makes up for his size with agile skating ability, excellent puck skills, and a capable shot. Barré-Boulet has become a dangerous option for the Crunch on the powerplay, and his offensive skill set should add him to the conversation as one of Tampa Bay’s top prospects.” Brandon Holmes
ABB is close, but I think there are a few names with more pro experience that are going to get a look in the NHL first. Verhaeghe, Volkov, and Taylor Raddysh come to mind. I have the same mental conundrum with ABB as I do with Dominik Masin. For Masin, his defensive side of the game is there, but the offensive puck-moving game is just quite not refined enough. Could he play in the NHL right now? Probably, but it wouldn’t be on the President’s Trophy winning Lightning. He’s also a defenseman while ABB can play wing so the path is mathematically twice as hard. Could I see ABB in the NHL? Yes. Will the Lightning rush him knowing they have better options right now? Probably not.
When does Alex Barre-Boulet make his NHL debut?
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