Alex Barre-Boulet - the Great Enigma. Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for this player. He could score 30 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning or he could roam AHL arenas for the rest of his life putting up great numbers but never latching on to a team in the NHL. What we do know is that he has produced offensively at every level he’s played at, and in 2021 he might get a fair shot at seeing if he can continue the success at the highest level in the game.
Barre-Boulet has proven that he can score at the AHL level. In 134 games for the Syracuse Crunch over the last two seasons he has put up 124 points (61 goals, 63 assists). In 2018-19, his rookie year, he tied for the league-lead in goals (with his teammate Carter Verhaeghe) and, in the process, set a Crunch franchise record for goals by a first year player with 34.
His sophomore campaign was almost as impressive as he posted 56 points (27 goals, 29 assists) in 60 games when the season ended in early March. He was fifth in the league in both goals scored and points recorded. There is a good chance he might have climbed within the top three if the season had continued since he was playing some of his best hockey in late February and early March. In his final nine games he recorded 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) which included a hat trick against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on the February 28th.
The hat trick against the Penguins gives you a pretty good idea of the skill set Barre-Boulet brings to the ice on a nightly basis. The first goal showcased his stickhandling ability as he deked the goalie on a nifty backhand. The second goal was a hard, accurate semi-slapshot, and the final goal started with a nice play to knock the puck out of the air and then he just went to a goal-scoring spot and cleaned up the mess.
There is no doubt that Barre-Boulet knows how to score. He was a beast in the QMJHL, putting up 337 points in 263 games and has carried that over during his brief career with the Crunch. He is able to score from just about anywhere on the ice and in every way conceivable. He can stickhandle around a defender and score. His wrist shot has pinpoint accuracy (his career shooting percentage in the AHL is 15.4%) and he has a heavy slapshot that is somewhat surprising coming from his 5’9”, 172 lbs. frame.
He is absolutely lethal on the power play as well. Of the 124 point he’s recorded for the Crunch, 45 have come with the man advantage. If he has open ice in the offensive zone, he is going to find a way to score or to get the puck to a teammate in a prime scoring position. Like many skilled puckhandlers, he does get into ruts where he gets a little pass-happy, trying for the pretty play instead of just getting the puck on net.
He’s proven that he is among the top level of players in the AHL, the question he will have to answer in the upcoming season is if he can take the next step and have his skills transfer to the NHL level. Based on his past success it wouldn’t be a surprise, and he may have an opening thanks to someone who had a similar start to their career.
Based on his size, his prolific scoring, and the fact that he was an undrafted free agent, Barre-Boulet draws a lot of comparisons to Tyler Johnson. While their journey is pretty similar there are some differences in their game - Barre-Boulet has a better set of offensive skills while TJ was better defensively at that point of his development.
That difference might be the major drawback to ABB advancing and succeeding with the Lightning. It seems like every forward we talk about in this ranking shares a common trait of being responsibly defensively or, to throw in a well-worn cliche, plays the 200-foot game. At this point in his career, that is not Barre-Boulet.
There has been some definite improvement in that area of his game year-over-year (even to the point where he was regularly killing penalties) but it’s not at the level the Crunch or Lightning like to see their forwards at in order to get regular playing time at the NHL level.
This is where his future gets a little murky with the organization. For him to be at his most productive Barre-Boulet should be on a line with other talented offensive players. His best game is not as a fourth-line forward playing 10 minutes of dump-and-forecheck hockey. Unfortunately, the Lightning don’t have a lot of holes to fill in the top six right now.
That’s not necessarily a knock on him as a player. Not everyone in the league is meant to be a grinder. That’s okay. The Lightning don’t have a lot of prospects in their system that could be a legitimate offensive threat in the NHL. Given the right circumstances, Barre-Boulet could be that top-line scoring talent. However, to get the chance to play in a top-six role, he’ll have to prove that he is, at the very least, not a defensive liability when he’s on the ice.
During the training camp prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, Barre-Boulet struggled a bit in the preseason games. He just didn’t look like he was adjusting well to the speed of the game, and thus, was reassigned to Syracuse. He received a chance during Training Camp 2.0 in the summer due to Steven Stamkos’ injury issues and he looked much more comfortable competing against his teammates and even showcased his skill set against a pretty good goaltender.
While he didn’t make the final cut for the team that went into the playoff bubble, he did impress the coaching staff. One of the things they mentioned is that he has to improve his skating. He skates well and is shifty in the offensive zone, but he lacks the explosive burst that is needed to compete against NHL defensemen.
It will be intriguing to see what opens up for him once the Lightning finalize their 2021 roster. If they are able to trade Tyler Johnson and/or Alex Killorn, that’s potentially two more spots open among the Lightning forward group. Add to that the possibility that another player (like Mitchell Stephens or Mathieu Joseph) might have to be added in as a sweetener in a Johnson deal and Barre-Boulet and his $759,000 cap hit could be a good-looking option as a fill-in.
Most likely he begins the season in Syracuse and is recalled at some point in the season due to an injury. Then it will be up to him to make the coaches keep him in Tampa, something that Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens did when they were call-ups.
Alex Barre-Boulet had a pretty big spread among both the writers and the readers. The two writers who covered the Crunch and saw him on a game-by-game basis (myself and Allokago) had him ranked a bit higher than the rest of the staff. Meanwhile y’all readers were allllllll over the place with him. This season, and a little time in the NHL, may bring a little clarity to his future as a NHL/Lightning prospect.