After three years in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, Alex Barré-Boulet finds himself at position number seven – the highest spot he has ever climbed on our list. The upcoming season will be very important for the 24-year-old forward and, while this statement is true about several players on our ranking, Barré-Boulet has really entered a “make it or break it“ phase of his career with the Lightning.
Barré-Boulet, a Quebec native, was never been drafted by an NHL team in his career, mostly because of his size, he was listed around 5’10” and 165 pounds during his draft-eligible days, which obviously scared away some of the NHL scouts. This, however, didn’t stop him from generating tons of offense in junior hockey. Barré-Boulet had been a point-per-game player for the most of his career in the QMJHL, which he successfully finished with a remarkable 2017-18 season, when he put up 116 (53+63) points in 65 games as an overager playing for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. This performance not only earned him the CHL Player of the Year award, but also a three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning, who already had successful experience with signing undrafted players.
After joining the Lightning, Barré-Boulet was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch. He scored his first professional goal in his first game with the Crunch and eventually ended the season with 34 goals, sharing a Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s leading goal scorer with his teammate Carter Verhaeghe. He also won the AHL Rookie of the Year award in that season. In the next season he continued producing at just under point-per-game rate and was named to the AHL All-Star team. Overall he recorded 56 (27+29) in 60 games in his sophomore season, which was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barré-Boule started the 2020-21 season again with the Crunch, but after a short period of time, he was called to the Lightning’s taxi squad and on February 22 finally made his NHL debut in the game against the Carolina Panthers. After playing around 12 minutes on the fourth line and even getting some time on the second power play unit in his first game he returned to the taxi squad and played in his second NHL game about two weeks later against the Detroit Red Wings, once again the fourth line. After a not very strong performance in this game, he was re-assigned back to Syracuse.
His second stint with the Lightning was much more impressive. The Lightning were in an offensive slump that began at the end of March and needed a shake-up. Over the course of the season, the Lightning tried several players to fill Nikita Kucherov’s spot on the right wing of the top line and when Steven Stamkos joined him on long-term injured reserve, Jon Cooper promoted Barré-Boulet to that spot. Playing on the first line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat gave him much more space and he finally showed himself as a player that drives offense and creates a lot of chances.
He was struggling with scoring points in first five games after his return to the team, but his performance was impactful on his linemates: while playing with Barré-Boulet, Palat ended his 13-game goal drought and Point recorded 11 points in their first seven games together. Overall during 122 minutes together, their line was an offensive dynamo, recording 62.34 xGF% and 55.63 CF% at 5v5 according to Evolving-hockey.com
Barré-Boulet scored his first NHL goal on April 25 in the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, finishing off a pass by Ondrej Palat with a one-time shot from left circle on the power play. Two days later he scored another goal, this time at even strength.
Got it done on the power play!! pic.twitter.com/QR3pt6WG05— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 26, 2021
A goal in back-to-back games for Barré-Boulet! pic.twitter.com/hS4FBMTGHo— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 28, 2021
Barré-Boulet stayed in the line-up until the end of the regular season and with the return of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos he was pushed back to the taxi squad where he remained the entire postseason. He finished the 2020-21 season with three goals in 15 NHL games and added 12 points (8+4) in 10 games in the AHL.
Alex Barré-Boulet continue d'impressionner dans la LNH! pic.twitter.com/fdSYFsFYvS— TVASports (@TVASports) May 8, 2021
Heading into this season, the main concern about Barré-Boulet will be if he is able to make an impact at the NHL level because of his small size and lack of elite speed. During the previous full training camp ahead of the 2019-20 season he struggled against NHL players in pre-season games, but as his 15 games in the NHL shows, he managed to overcome his struggles and was more comfortable at the NHL level. His skating still remains his weakest side, but it’s not that critical as before. His defense is also not his strongest asset and part of the reason why he struggles as a bottom-six player. The lack of size and speed Barré-Boulet compensates with great hockey vision and a surprisingly heavy slapshot for a such small player. Alex Barré-Boulet is also a pretty versatile player, who could play at both wings and even spend some time on penalty kill if needed. He’s also very dangerous on the power play, scoring a solid part of his goals in the AHL with the man advantage. He will definitely be on the Lightning’s second power play unit, if he makes the team and might even break the top unit at some point of the season.
Last summer the Lightning extended Barré-Boulet’s contract to three more years, which indicates that the team see him as a long-term project. At the start of the new season he will be fighting for a spot mostly with Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, but his performance at the end of the previous regular season should give him an edge in this fight. With healthy Kucherov and Stamkos he however won’t be seeing a lot of top-six minutes and as his first games in the NHL showed, he’s not very well suited to a bottom-six role.
At the end of the next season Barré-Boulet will be 25. At this age, you’d probably want a regular spot on the NHL team, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll ask for a trade, feeling that he’s not able to move higher on the line-up. The expiring contracts of Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn could potentially open two more spots on the Lightning’s top six, but that’s a topic for a discussion in the next offseason.