When Mark Barberio was picked up off of waivers in early February there were high hopes that he would be a great fit in coach Jared Bednar’s fast, puck moving system. Now that Barberio has played 27 games in an Avalanche sweater it’s possible to better assess his fit with Colorado. These games have mostly affirmed that he provides the skill set needed to thrive in the Avs current structure.
In a year of transition from one coach’s system to another, an obvious strategy the Avalanche have implemented is the use of speed, particularly while moving through the neutral zone and into the offensive end. Mark Barberio’s exceptional athleticism and foot speed allow him to execute plays quickly and effectively.
Barberio’s quickness and agility make it easier for him to generate shots from the blue line. It’s refreshing to see this happen when there are other members of the Avalanche defense whose shots struggle to reach the net. When he doesn’t have the puck, Barberio’s ability to attack the net as well as use open space to get open for opportunities makes the Avalanche more of an offensive threat.
These offensive skills have translated well on the power play. While the Avalanche power play is ranked 30th in the NHL and not much scoring production has come out of it, seeing Barberio generate chances while on the power play gives hope. He gets to be extra aggressive and is provided extra space to do so.
An offensive minded defender, Barberio can read and follow the puck movement and natural shifting of the power play, converting himself into a more forward-like threat in and around the faceoff circle. This allows the coaching staff to put two defensemen on the power play for defensive certainty while maintaining the offensively aggressive push of a typical four-forward, one-defenseman setup.
Looking at the defensive end of the ice, with the skillset Barberio presents, of course, he can skate the puck out of the zone with ease. However, his ability to move the puck to his teammates is fast, hard and crisp. His fast style has resulted in the ability to process and think the game quickly, which allows him to make the smart, easy play and when necessary, he can chip it high off the glass and out of danger with ease.
When he does have to take the high-off-the-glass route, he does so strategically, looking to create some sort of offensive opportunity for his forwards.
All of these attributes, of course, are pertaining to situations where the Avalanche have the puck and are creating offense. All of which are Barberio’s strengths and were never in question.
As a defenseman, he also needs to play defense. This is an area where he needs to continue improving. For example, as an offensive-minded player, he can often be too aggressive in chasing the puck and attempting to regain possession, but he definitely shows solid traits in other areas.
One of which is his coverage in front of the net. When the puck is elsewhere and the opposing team has a player hovering around the Colorado goal, Barberio is close by. So close, in fact, that Barberio is typically skating side by side with the opponent, keeping his body right on top of who he’s defending, matching him stride for stride. He keeps a close eye on the player’s stick to keep it off of the ice and away from danger.
It is clear that Mark Barberio has proven himself to be a great fit in the system that coach Bednar is trying to run and with good fortune, the Avalanche will be able to continue to use his skillset as they move towards their future plans.
Due to the protection rules for the upcoming expansion draft, it is more than likely the Avalanche will be forced to expose Barberio considering he meets both the experience and contract criteria the Avalanche needed to meet the demands the NHL made in regards to exposing players.
The way Mark Barberio has played in his short time in Colorado should have the Avalanche with their finger crossed that he isn’t in the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ plans and that he can play the last year of his current contract with the Avs. Then, both parties can reassess from there.