The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers have ranked players under the age of 25 as of August 1, 2021 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
At this point the story is familiar about how Justin Barron dropped into the Colorado Avalanche’s lap on draft day in 2020. In part because he only had played 34 games in the 2019-20 season after a blood clot was discovered in his shoulder in November of 2019 and then Barron had to sit out for several months without taking contact to allow blood thinners to run their course. Just as he was ready to make a comeback and finish strong the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended Barron’s season in March of 2020. It was a long wait to hear his name called later on in October but the Avalanche believed in Barron’s talent enough to make him a first round draft pick and selected him at 25th overall.
It was a trying season in 2019-20 even before the injury hiatus because the Halifax Mooseheads were dealing with the aftermath and consequences of hosting the Memorial Cup in spring of 2019. As such host teams are expected to mortgage the future in order to compete at the same level of the league champions in the tournament. In that third year with Halifax it was a much younger and inexperienced supporting cast which hurt Barron’s production in his draft year when he only put up 19 points in 31 contests — not what anyone wanted to see from a guy with middle of the first round projections.
Barron is a right handed defenseman who is a great puck mover and in transition with excellent skating ability and possesses a physical edge. He has a strong shot but likely won’t be a big points producer at the next level. A steady calming presence on the blueline with good puck skill and mobility is what will get Barron to the NHL and hopefully help round out the Avalanche defensive core.
The injury pause, league stoppage and then a minor surgery to hopefully correct the blood clot issue once and for all served as a reset for Barron to make his final season in Major Junior count and to show why he was deserving of a first round selection and eventually an NHL contract. Barron was named captain of the Mooseheads ahead of the 2020-21 season and despite some league stoppages he managed to play 34 games and took a big step in production to the tune of 31 points in those games. He also improved on his decision making and puck management especially on the breakout, which were also criticisms of his game going into the draft.
As a first round pick as well as holding a lengthy history with Hockey Canada, Barron had the opportunity to attend the 2021 World Junior Championship selection camp. It was a mild surprise when he was named to the squad and subsequently played in every game in mostly a third pairing role. Barron chipped in two assists in those seven games and although his play tailed off a bit as the competition got tougher he earned a silver medal for his efforts.
When Halifax decided to call it quits on the QMJHL season in early April 2021 it afforded Barron a tremendous opportunity to finally sign his Entry Level Contract and finish his season in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles. Barron adapted quickly to the new environment and increase in level of competition, especially for someone who had never been to any kind of camp with the Avalanche. The chaotic nature of the league didn’t phase him and Barron was able to assert his physicality against much older players. The glimpses of that emerging offense from Halifax carrying over were very encouraging, too.
In his seven games to close out the Eagles’ regular season Barron produced four points, three at even strength and one on the power play. It was the AHL Pacific Division “playoffs” where Barron really left an impression as he completely took over and won the play-in game against the Ontario Reign culminating with the game winning goal in overtime (also check out that nice primary assist from Sampo Ranta). Barron put up three points that evening in a 5-4 victory which really put an exclamation mark on his brief AHL audition and serves as a hint at things to come in his pro career.
Next up for Barron is his first training camp with the Avalanche and the likely a full season in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles. If Barron picks up where he left off in the spring he could be on a steep trajectory and ready for a callup to the NHL in the coming season. The plan should be for Barron to transition and graduate by his third year pro when Erik Johnson’s contract expires after the 2022-23 season.
#8 Sampo Ranta
#9 Martin Kaut
t10 Jean-Luc Foudy
t10 Logan O’Connor
#12 Justus Annunen
#13: Oskar Olausson
#14: Shane Bowers
#15: Drew Helleson
#16: Sean Behrens
#17: Mikhail Maltsev
#18: Alex Beaucage
#19: Trent Miner
#20: Colby Ambrosio
#21: Dennis Gilbert
#22: Daniil Zhuravlyov
#23: Tyler Weiss
#24: Nikolai Kovalenko
#25: Nick Henry