Already member? Login first!

Comments / New

The perseverance of Alex Barre-Boulet

Oct 21, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Barre-Boulet (12) and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake McCabe (22) battle for the puck in the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Alex Barre-Boulet circled around the net and fired a pass to his linemate Nikita Kucerov to set up a scoring opportunity. It did not end up in the back of the net, if I remember correctly, Kucherov fired the puck wide. What I do remember thinking, though, was that the play reminded me of the Barre-Boulet we’ve seen with the Syracuse Crunch, head up,confident and looking to set his teammates up for a scoring chance.

While Crunch fans are used to seeing it on a nightly basis over the past few seasons, it hasn’t been the case during his repeated brief call-ups with the Lightning. Despite being with the organization for five years now, hes’ only appeared in 35 games with the Lightning (and another 2 with Kraken during his brief sojourn with Seattle).

What we’ve learned in that time is that he is an exceptional AHL scorer. In 271 career games (all with the Crunch) he’s recorded 283 points (109 goals, 174 assists). In case you were wondering, yes, Barre-Boulet is the franchise leader in goals and points. In his first season he scored 34 goals and was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Year and named to the All-Rookie team. He was an AHL All-Star in 2019-20 and named to the First All-Star Team in 2022-23. The kid knows AHL hockey.

That play has earned him a few call-ups over the years, yet he hasn’t been able to stick with the Lightning. In 2020-21 he played in 15 games and recorded 3 goals. The next season he was in the NHL for 16 games between the Lightning and Kraken and put up 3 goals and 2 assists. Last season he had a one-game run with the Bolts without recording a point.

In the past, the Lightning really haven’t had an opening on their top-six, so when Barre-Boulet was called up, he was playing minimal minutes on the bottom-six. While he has improved his defensive game over the years, it’s still not the role his skillset is best suited for. Still, that’s where he was when the season started. Due to injuries to Tyler Motte and Steven Stamkos (briefly) a spot did open and Coach Cooper gave the 26-year-old a shot on the top line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov.

So far, in the short times they’ve been together the combination has been a success. It was in the game against Vancouver where they were together for the first time on a consistent basis, playing over 10 minutes together at 5v5. Since then, they’ve been together with a total of 39:27 of ice time at 5v5 they’ve generated 56.79% of the shot attempts, 57.14% of the shots on net, and 61.22% of the scoring chances. Considering two of the games came against shot-happy teams in Toronto and Carolina, those are pretty solid numbers.

Along the way Barre-Boulet has scored twice, both on deflections in front of the net. His first goal was on a brilliant shot-pass by Nikita Kucherov.

After he scored his second goal in as many games, Coach Cooper spoke about his play so far this season,

“He’s got a pretty elite hockey IQ. He’s done that at levels he’s played at prior to the NHL. He’s got offensive instincts so you learn  to play with these guys and where they want the puck and where you should put it. So he’s slowly learning that. As you can see, he can finish. You get him into these offensive situations and he can excel.”

The “elite IQ” was on display in his goal against Carolina.

A lot of players find themselves in the position he was in, puck on the stick in front of the net with space rapidly diminishing. Instead of firing a panicked shot into Pytor Kochetkov’s pads, he holds on to it. With his head up he saw Darren Raddysh open for a shot from the point. The reverse five-hole pass was on the money, but Barre-Boulet didn’t just stand there and admire his handiwork. He hustled back to the front of the net and was in perfect position to tip home the shot while everyone on Carolina’s defense, and I do mean everyone, was watching Raddysh wind up and shoot the puck.

For a player that is listed at 5’10 and 181 lbs., he gets a surprising number of goals from in front of the net. Barre-Boulet also acknowledges that is his role on this line. As he told reporters before the game, his role is to keep the puck moving and let Kucherov and Point do their thing. He wants to go into corners and dig out pucks, get in front of the net and tip pucks or dig for rebounds. 

Despite his lack of traditional size, he can do that, much in the same way that Kucherov does. They don’t have to go in and shove people aside. Their hands are quick enough that they can glide in and pick the pockets of opposing players to create the turnovers. We’ve seen it time and time again with Kucherov, an opposing forward skates into the neutral zone with the puck, looks up to find a teammate to pass to, and the next thing he knows Kucherov has take the puck off his stick and is wheeling back into attack mode.

It has to have been a frustrating few season for Barre-Boulet. He’s proven all needs to at the AHL level, but hasn’t been able to translate that into success at the NHL level. He had a run with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, but didn’t seem comfortable on the top line. He was hesitant with his reads and passes and often deferred to those around him. It’s a different look this time around and he is playing with confidence and isn’t a passenger on that top line.

Along the way he could have grown frustrated and demanded a trade or skipped over to Europe to play. Instead he’s stuck with it, and with the organization. With the forward ranks dwindling due to the salary cap, he knew there would be some openings this year. He made the roster out of camp and waited his turn as a healthy scratch over the first two games.

When given the chance Barre-Boulet earned his spot on the top line and through two-and-a-half games is playing like he wants to keep it. Coach Cooper will have a decision to make in a week or so when Motte is ready to re-enter the line-up, but so far, Barre-Boulet hasn’t given him an excuse to demote him or take him out of the line-up.

The path to success in the NHL isn’t always straight, but Alex Barre-Boulet has stayed on his, and it’s finally looking like it might pay off.

If you enjoyed this article please consider supporting RawCharge by subscribing here, or purchasing our merchandise here.

Support RawCharge by using our Affiliate Link when Shopping Hockey Apparel !