Alex Barre-Boulet is back with the Tampa Bay Lightning, for now.
With Cole Koepke injured and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare away from the team due to personal reasons, it was Barre-Boulet who got the nod from the pool of forwards in Syracuse. And how could it not be Barre-Boulet as he leads the American Hockey League in assists and points (4G-20A–24P).
His first night back in Tampa was not conclusive in either direction, but in his 10:01 of ice-time he did record a shot on goal and a takeaway. His on-ice numbers were a mixed bag, but his xGF% of 65.67 was good enough for sixth among Lightning forwards.
Previously this season, neither Koepke nor Fortier, fellow organization prospects, have cemented their futures with the team. Koepke has looked decent in his rookie season through 15 games, but only has one point off a goal. And Fortier was held scoreless in one game before being sent to Syracuse. Their lack of production has underscored a lack of scoring from the entire bottom half of the Lightning’s forward group.
In the limited time Barre-Boulet has spent with the Lightning the past three seasons, he does have six goals and two assists in 30 games. While that is still not full translation of his AHL offensive ability to the NHL, it is more than what Koepke and Fortier have shown thus far in their NHL appearances.
Lack of offensive talent is not what ended Barre-Boulet’s previous stints in Tampa though. Multiple occurrences of a lack of effort and carelessness with the puck led to opportunities heading the other direction. However, we have noted that since his demotion last season, including the beginning of this AHL season, he has improved his off-the-puck work ethic and become a more well-rounded hockey player.
From what we saw last night, I would say Barre-Boulet showcased that immediately. His first shift of the game featured him hounding the puck carriers through the offensive zone and he also had a good showing of backchecking late in the first period that helped thwart an opportunity for the Blues. While he’s not going to be the top worker on the team, or even his line, he just needs to provide a consistent level of production without being a liability on the ice.
As for the current opportunity, Barre-Boulet can easily force the team’s hand into reassigning Koepke to Syracuse as Koepke is still on his ELC and not waivers eligible. Bellemare’s absence may only be temporary, but his play so far this season has left something more to be desired. Rudolfs Balcers also exited last night’s game after crashing into the boards during his first and only shift.
Now 25 and halfway through his second NHL contract, Barre-Boulet may not get another opportunity like this. His time to perform is now, and it is also the team’s time to give him the opportunity to prove that he’s finally ready to make the jump to the NHL.