Tampa Bay Lightning Can Do More for Alex Barre-Boulet

Sep 26, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Barre-Boulet (12) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Barre-Boulet (12) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Four seasons have passed since Alex Barre-Boulet and former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Carter Verhaeghe tied for the 2019 American Hockey League season goal scoring title. But from there, their stories diverged.

Verhaeghe, in his fourth AHL season at the time, was ready to graduate to the NHL. And ready he was as he has since gone on to score 93 goals in 254 games over the course of four seasons between the Lightning and the Florida Panthers.

Conversely, Barre-Boulet, a rookie at the time, has been unable to stick in the NHL since making his debut with the team in 2021. His journey has since included a short stint with the Seattle Kraken in their inaugural season after being claimed off waivers, before being reclaimed on waivers by the Lightning — a sign they still believed in his future potential.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Age is just a number

Some might argue that at 26 years old, he is now too old to break out and be worth rostering over a younger prospect or a steady but lower-upside, veteran. However, I view that as a flawed opinion.

If one thinks age is an issue, then look no further than Darren Raddysh solidifying his spot in the NHL as a 26-year-old last season. Previously thought to be no more than an organizational depth piece, he became a starter in the lineup on merit and is expected to continue as such this season.

Also, had Barre-Boulet’s AHL scoring numbers stagnated since his last multi-game NHL stint during the Fall of 2021, then perhaps I would agree, but he has only improved.

After finishing below a point-per-game scoring rate in his first two AHL seasons, he firmly solidified himself above that rate in the two most recent. With the best yet coming just last season, he finished runner-up in the AHL for most points scored with 84 in 69 games.

But of course, scoring is not everything.

Some of Barre-Boulet’s off-the-puck play in the NHL has left something more to be desired. But having watched most of his AHL games since his last multi-game stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021, I feel comfortable in saying that area of his game has also made notable improvement.

Maximizing Barre-Boulet’s potential

Now, I do not vouch that Barre-Boulet is going to emulate Brandon Hagel and Tanner Jeannot in pestering opponents all over the ice, but he can play at a competent enough level that does take away from his offensive talents — the skill that will truly make him an NHLer.

However, for that to fully be realized, I think the team can better place him in situations to succeed. And by that, I mean more playing time with the top forwards on the team.

Barre-Boulet previously had the opportunity to fill in on the top line for the then injured Nikita Kucherov in 2021, but coming off a Stanley Cup winning season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were firing on all cylinders with their eyes set on a repeat performance.

Asking a prospect, no matter the talent level, to be up to speed with what Kucherov achieved with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat was never a fair ask and should not be viewed negatively against him as he struggled to keep pace.

However, substantial opportunities in the top six of the lineup have been hard to come by since the only open roster needs were bottom six roles that demand more of a player’s off-the-puck ability. And unsurprisingly, he was not the right fit for the job.

Some argue that Barre-Boulet needs to prove himself in such a role to earn a roster spot — as many have done so before him — but that would be a mistake to force upon him.

At the start of the 2023-24 season, the Lightning need another player to step up and drive offensive production. Yanni Gourde has been gone for three seasons, Palat for two, and this will be year one without Alex Killorn and Ross Colton.

While the team has done well in trading for Hagel and adding Nick Paul, Tanner Jeannot, and Conor Sheary, they are not complete replacements for what the team has lost since appearing in the Stanley Cup Final for three consecutive years.

Without the salary cap room to spend luxuriously on forwards, the opportunity to deploy Barre-Boulet in roles that suit him best has arrived.

In his prior 30 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, we know that ABB can be a focal point on the second power-play unit. But in case anyone forgot, he provided a reminder in the preseason opener.

For this role in particular, Barre-Boulet is the natural replacement for Ross Colton after he was traded over the summer. After previously relying on Colton’s shooting ability in the one-timer spot, ABB can pick up right where the team left off.

For even strength lines, early indications have shown that Barre-Boulet will slot in with Jeannot and Paul on the third line, but once again, I do not see his skills complementing theirs and vice versa.

Assuming Kucherov and Point remain relatively inseparable and that Barre-Boulet is not a match to play with them as he is best at right-wing — like Kucherov is — then I want to see him get a legitimate shot at playing with either Hagel, Sheary, or Stamkos on the second line.

So, while it is early days in the 2023-24 season, and the team needs someone to emerge as a scoring threat, let’s see what Alex Barre-Boulet can do in a role that encourages offensive creativity without constraining him to be the third wheel on a forechecking line.

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