When Riley Barber scored more goals than any Division I freshman in the country in his freshman year at Miami University (Ohio) -- he had 15 goals and 24 assists in 40 games -- many considered him one of the steals of the 2012 NHL draft, where the Capitals selected him in the sixth round at 167th overall.
Two years later, Barber’s numbers as a junior (20 goals, 20 assists in 38 games) looked very similar to those as a freshman.
But don’t be mistaken, Capitals assistant general manager Brian MacLellan said, the organization still sees Barber as one of their top forward prospects.
“He’s progressing well and I’m excited to see how he’s going to do when he steps in and plays pro hockey,” Mahoney said. “Let’s see him play a year in the American Hockey league and see where he ends up.”
Signed by the Capitals to a three-year, entry-level contract on April 17, Barber, 21, is expected to begin his pro career with the AHL Hershey Bears next season after seeing his collegiate career end with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The injury occurred in the RedHawks’ National Collegiate Hockey Conference championships game and Barber had to be carried onto the ice for the post-game celebration.
He was forced to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, where Miami lost to Providence in the East Regional Semifinal.
“It was huge, especially missing the NCAA tournament like I did,” Barber said. “Injuries happen in your career and you’ve got to get over them.
It was just a hockey play. I was on a penalty kill and I went into the corner and tried to get the puck out and a guy fell on the back of my leg.
I felt a pop. I’m just glad it wasn’t an ACL or a meniscus or something like that.”
Barber did not require surgery and said he felt 100 percent during the Caps’ development camp last week at Kettler, where he said he worked on improving his speed.
“I think all aspects of my game have tightened up, especially defensively,” Barber said. “I think I’m finding ways to score more goals. I’m always working on my shot and what this team needs out of me. I’m looking forward to a couple good months of training before training camp.”
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If Barber begins next season in Hershey, he’ll be part of a young core of Capitals prospects that could include first-year pros Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington and Christian Djoos.
“I think every level you play is a huge jump,” said Barber, who totaled 123 points in 116 NCAA games and eight goals and seven assists in 18 games for the U.S. in World Junior tournaments. “From college to pros everything is different. The style of game is different. The amount of games you play, the travel. You just have to make sure your body is physically conditioned enough to take it on.”
Barber said he’d like to complete his degree from Miami and says he learned a valuable lesson from the injury that ended last season.
“One thing I can take from that injury is knowing that one second you’re on the ice and you’re on top of the world and the next second you can be injured,” he said. “I want to take every day, have fun with it and work as hard as I can. I just want to make their decision in September as hard as possible.