ANAHEIM, Calif. – Morgan Barron is knocking on the door of being a full-time NHL player. A sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft, he’s elevated himself to where he’s considered one of the Rangers’ top prospects.
But Barron, now in his second professional season, hasn’t quite broken through yet. He spent most of his first season with the Rangers’ Hartford farm team, and this season, he’s been up and down. Because of COVID-19, though, Barron is back with the Rangers, and with forwards Julien Gauthier (COVID protocol) and Dryden Hunt (upper-body injury) out, Barron was in the lineup Saturday night for the Rangers in their game against the Anaheim Ducks.
And he understood getting into a game represented a major opportunity for him.
"It's definitely an opportunity,’’ Barron said at the Rangers’ morning skate. "I know they’ve been on a pretty good run right now, but if I do get the chance to get in, I think there's always some things I can do to help them win some more games. So I'll do that.’’
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant didn’t know much about Barron, beyond what he saw of him in training camp. Barron came up and played two games early in the season (no points, two penalty minutes) when Kaapo Kakko went on injured reserve, and the 6-4, 220-pound Barron made a positive impression before getting sent back. He was recalled for a second stint, but didn’t get into a game.
"He's an up-and-coming young player that's worked hard and done a real good job,’’ Gallant said of Barron. "He's getting better down in the American Hockey League. He's gonna get a chance obviously tonight to play and we'll see where it goes.’’
Barron, who’s played mostly center and some left wing for Hartford, has eight goals and four assists (12 points) in 20 games there. He’s worked hard on winning faceoffs and being a good penalty-killing forward, and when he and the Hartford coaches talk about what position might be best for him, it usually ends up being that Barron says he’ll play wherever the team needs him.
The next step for him, according to Gallant, is to just keep getting experience. Because of the shortened season in 2020-21, he only played 21 games in the AHL and five in the NHL at the end of the season. So altogether, he’s played 48 professional games after coming out of Cornell University, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player in 2020.
Barron was asked if there is something he needs to do better or more of in order to earn a full-time position in the NHL with the Rangers.
"It's definitely something that I can control,’’ he said. "I think we talk a lot about guys wanting the puck on their stick and I think that's something that can come a little bit easier in the American League for someone like myself who's spent more time there than up here. But you know, as I get a little bit more confident, and comfortable up here, that's something I want to be able to control the play a little bit more on the offensive zone.’’
Gallant was asked if he believes Barron could potentially help the Rangers this season, as opposed to somewhere down the road.
"We'll see,’’ the coach said. "We would love to play 20 guys all year long. That's not going to happen. It's the way the NHL is … If he plays really well tonight. He's probably going to get another game. If he plays really well continuously, he's probably going to stay here. That's the way it works.’’