TAMPA — Not every rookie earns the coaching staff’s trust so quickly that he’s placed on the team’s first forward line and top power-play unit.
But Alex Barre-Boulet is different. The Lightning needed a spark in both places, and the faith they placed in the 23-year-old rookie forward to make big plays alongside the team’s top-scoring players is paying off.
“He’s not afraid to make plays, and he’s got the talent to make the plays,” center Brayden Point said. “I think the biggest thing is the way he sees the game, and he’ll lead you into good spots.”
It was just a matter of time before Barre-Boulet received his own payoff: his first NHL goal. Since rejoining the team on April 15, Barre-Boulet has created his share of scoring opportunities, but he still seemed hesitant shooting the puck.
In the Lightning’s 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday at Amalie Arena, Barre-Boulet had a team-high 10 shot attempts — nearly as many (13) as in his first five games combined since rejoining the team. Five of his seven scoring chances came on the power play.
Just after he missed connecting with Brayden Point on a backdoor pass to the near post, Barre-Boulet returned to his spot on the left circle and redirected a cross-slot pass from Ondrej Palat into the net for his first NHL goal. The critical, third-period score tied the game, which eventually went into overtime.
“You know, I didn’t think about points or goals too much since I got here,” Barre-Boulet said after the goal. “There’s so many great players here that contribute offensively that I didn’t put pressure on myself to do it. I think, play good and you play hard, and good things are going to happen. I missed a couple (scoring chances) before (Sunday), but it was good to have it (Sunday).”
When Steven Stamkos’ injury left a hole on the first two forward lines and top power-play unit, Barre-Boulet was an unlikely fit. But he has injected energy into both places, meshing well with Point and Palat.
“That’s our job,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “is to make sure we can find positions for players so it works. And we think BB (Barre-Boulet), he sees the game at a high level and has the ability to play with good players. That was our thought, anyway, and he’s proven us right.”
Barre-Boulet filled the net in the AHL, scoring a league-high 34 goals in his first season with Syracuse two seasons ago. But Cooper has noticed Barre-Boulet carry over a belief in himself that’s rare for a player with just eight NHL games on his resume.
“It’s confidence and the ability to to make plays under pressure against the best players in the world,” Cooper said. “And that’s what you look for when guys come up, that they’re not shying away from the moment. He’s a smart player, so he’s figured it out pretty quick what he can and can’t do. I think that’s always a big thing for players having the confidence to do the things they’ve done all the way up.”
Barre-Boulet has shown a knack for seeing the ice well and making plays with the puck. In his debut in February, he made an incredible head-man pass that sent Alex Killorn on a breakaway. Since then, Barre-Boulet has continued to find teammates with the puck and position himself in favorable spots to score.
“I don’t think I can ask for anything better right now,” Barre-Boulet said. “I’m playing with two unreal players and playing on the power play with some unreal guys, so I just try to keep it simple for them.”
As impressive as Barre-Boulet has been so far, his Lightning teammates sense there’s much more to come as he gains experience.
“There’s plenty more for that guy,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s just finding his stride in the NHL. He’s going to be a big, big, big part of our team. We know how good he’s been doing in Syracuse.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard,
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