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Quietly, A Star Is Born

Posted 7:22 AM ET | Comments 7
While most likely out of playoff contention, the Blackhawks appear nonetheless to be on their way to a successful season (as compared with the previous decade and a half of futility) in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

The Hawks will probably finish over .500. They're 4-1 vs. Detroit this season. Their line-up is studded with young players who are emerging as NHL stars: Pat Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. And a couple of other, less heralded players have begun asserting themselves in new positions: Patrick Sharp as a left wing on kane and Toews' line, and Dustin Byfuglien who is starting to look like a force at power forward.

And,as they say, when it rains, it pours. There's another young Blackhawk who is quietly making huge strides, and whose game is transforming itself on almost a nightly basis. And of all these young players, his upside could be as high as anyone's.

Cameron Barker.

Drafted 3rd overall in 2004 behind Ovechkin and Malkin, Barker was viewed as "the best of the rest" in his draft year. A big, raw-boned defenseman out of Medicine Hat in the WHL, he had played well for Canada in international competition, flashing unusual puck skills and power play instincts.

And then something happened. He struggled with a broken ankle in his first pro season at Norfolk (AHL). He looked tentative and so, so slow at times. Occasionally, and especially at the end of last season's 35 game stint with the Blackhawks, he would play with an edge, manhandling opposing forwards and showing his offensive skills. But then he'd revert back to the bumbling, slow, unsure style that made Hawk fans wonder if he was going to make it at all.

But recently, in the last five games, the stars seem to have aligned for Barker. And he literally looks like a totally different player, the one the Hawks thought they were getting in 2004. Barker's positional play has been almost flawless (which one can't always say about all-star Keith). His skating and passing are fast and assertive. He is pinching and scoring. And, above all, he is playing physically.

I suspect that playing with the underrated James Wisniewski is helping Barker quite a bit. It's perhaps no coincidence that Keith made great strides in his game while partnered with Wiz over parts of the previous two seasons. Wisniewski keeps the game simple and plays it well in all three zones. And he is said to be a great partner in a defensive pairing. Consistent, always communicating and picking up his teammates.

Regardless, for Barker, it's working on all cylinders right now. And we're starting to see the kind of player he can be. Speed kills, but size and skill together win Stanley Cups these days. Barker could, and just may, still regress, but his development arc appears to be going up overall. And a top 4 of Keith, Seabrook, Barker and Wisniewski no longer appears to be a liability.

Filed Under:   Blackhawks   Red Wings   Western Conference   WHL  
February 16, 2008 7:45 AM ET | Delete
Nice read, thanks.
February 16, 2008 7:45 AM ET | Delete
Message Posted
February 16, 2008 4:48 PM ET | Delete
Great read, but I don't know that Barker's ascent has been a quiet one. He's been drooled over by NHL people for a couple years. The 'Hawks have an awesome collection of young talent. Hopefully, they can keep this year's turnaround going for the next decade or two.
February 16, 2008 5:03 PM ET | Delete
That troika of Keith Seabrook and Barker is a nasty top 3 to build around for the future.
February 17, 2008 7:58 AM ET | Delete
Jsaquella,He's looked like garbage over a good portion of the last two years. He was drooled over a lot more prior to that. Thanks for the comment.
February 17, 2008 3:40 PM ET | Delete
It would be nice to see the Hawks acquire a veteran defenceman with good leadership skills to bring these young guys along... No offence to Brent Sopel, who I believe could be a deadline trade. The kind of guy I'm talking about is like an Adrian Aucoin, or maybe today's version thereof - Chris Phillips. Either way, I think with Dany Richmond also coming up, the leadership aspect of the Hawks' organization will start to become a questionmark, and force them into trading for or signing a leader for the D-corps.
February 18, 2008 2:43 PM ET | Delete
They just signed Sopel for 3 years. I don't think that was in order to trade him. I don't disagree that they need a veteran d-man. Umm, they HAD Aucoin and he wasn't much on the ice or in the dressing room. I like Phillips and I agree that he would be a nice add.
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