MONTREAL — Justin Barron corrals the pass just inside the Ottawa Senators blue line, makes a quick fake and fires the puck off goaltender Anton Forsberg’s shoulder. It squirts right back out to him off a failed clearing attempt by an Ottawa defenceman and he sweeps it up with the toe of his stick and shifts it to heel as he begins to pedal backwards and across the blue line and back down towards the top of the left faceoff circle.
That’s when Barron, 20, playing in his seventh NHL game, in his fifth with the Montreal Canadiens and in his first at the Bell Centre, lets go of a shot that kisses the top of the net and ties this game 2-2 just 40 seconds after Tim Stützle made it 2-1 Senators. It’s a big-league play from a prospect with big-league potential, the type of play you dream of making when you’re a kid imagining your very first goal in the world’s top league, and it gets the fans up off of their feet and hollering at full volume.
Barron grew up in Halifax, with an allegiance to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he realized a dream with the Canadiens on Tuesday when those fans gave him an explosive ovation as his milestone was being announced.
The cameras panned to him, and the kid sat there in the middle of the bench just soaking it all in.
In an ideal world, this great moment would’ve been followed up with a win for Barron’s team, and with him available to answer questions about this indelible experience instead of lying on the trainer’s table after an awkward collision with Mathieu Joseph on an empty-net goal that made this a 6-3 win for Ottawa left him worse for wear.
But hey, that’s life in the NHL.
Barron’s living it now, and he suddenly appears to be that much more accustomed to it than he did when he first came over to Montreal as the key acquisition in a trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche on Mar. 21.
The former 25th overall pick in the 2020 Draft landed with big expectations on his shoulders and appeared somewhat jittery through his first few games.
But there were no signs of nerves on this night.
“I think JB is just a hockey player,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “I don’t think he gets rattled with the NHL. I think he comes on the ice and realizes that the lines are going to be in the same spots and the boards and the size of the rink and the nets are going to be in the same place. He’s just playing the game, and you can see the poise he has, and I’m very happy with the small sample I’ve seen.”
This near-18-minute portion of it was by far Barron’s best as a Canadien.
You could see it trending in that direction in the first period. And the goal that came in the eighth minute of the second was more wind in his sails.
Barron finished the game having completed the majority of his passes, having led the Canadiens with five shots on net, having earned the second star of the night, and having impressed his teammates.
“I didn’t know much about him,” said David Savard. “He moves well and makes good decisions— defensively and offensively. He doesn’t really place himself in trouble, and that’s a good thing to see. He doesn’t think too much, he trusts his talent.”
That’s becoming a little trend with this young and inexperienced Canadiens defence corps. It was certainly apparent in a 5-4 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and was once again the case on Tuesday—even in this loss.
Jordan Harris impressed in that weekend game—in his NHL debut—and in this one against the Senators. As did 22-year-old Alexander Romanov, who’s taken the next step in his development and been relied on to play more minutes per game than all but 31 players in the league since Mar. 15. And then there’s 26-year-old Corey Schueneman, the undrafted blueliner who made one big error to allow Austin Watson to tie this game 1-1 in the sixth minute of the first period but played the rest of the contest as though it never happened.
Still, it was Barron’s mobility, poise and offensive acumen that shined in this one. And his goal was the biggest moment of the game—even with a collision 11 minutes later between Nick Suzuki and Stützle that led to a kneeing penalty for Suzuki, incensed the Canadiens in the moment and left Brendan Gallagher (who jumped Stützle in the third period) still seething after the game.
But he calmed down and had this to say about his relatively new teammate.
“It’s still really early, but you can see the talent he has,” Gallagher started. “He scores a great goal tonight. It’s a great shot, smart shot, uses the screen, puts it in a perfect spot. Nobody anticipates that whole play. He makes a lot of good reads on the ice. He definitely has the potential, definitely has the talent, and hopefully we can help him out. He’s showing signs of being a really promising player for us going forward.”