Washington Capitals: Riley Barber a Promise not Kept, Yet?

HERSHEY, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Hershey Bears right wing Riley Barber (19) skates the puck across the blue line during the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Hershey Bears on November 28, 2018 at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Hershey Bears right wing Riley Barber (19) skates the puck across the blue line during the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Hershey Bears on November 28, 2018 at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Riley Barber was a promising prospect in the Washington Capitals system, the issue was he was barely seen.

How do you react to losing a player like Riley Barber who only made it to the NHL to play a total of 3 games over 7 years with the Washington Capitals?  Especially when the player only receives a one-year two-way contract for $700,000 from a new team.

At first your reaction might be big deal, what have we as fans really missed out on.  But it would overshadow a player who showed tremendous promise at all levels of play.  The Washington Capitals drafted Riley Barber in the 6th round at 167th overall in 2012.

In the same draft as Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson, who both were drafted in the 1st round that year.  As expected prospects drafted early on have high expectations placed on them fair or not.  Where most view later round picks as a luxury if they pan out.

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It didn’t take long for folks to take notice of Riley Barber, as he would gone on to play college hockey at Miami University of Ohio.  In his freshman year, he produced at just below a point per game pace scoring 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 40 games.

With this production came accolades in the form of CCHA All-Rookie Team, CCHA First All-Star Team, and CCHA Rookie of the Year.  He would follow that great year up with even better stats, where he scored 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 38 games his sophomore year, and 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points in 38 games his junior year.  Both times pacing at better than a point per game average.  Barber also helped the 2012 IIHF USA Men’s-Under 18 World Championship Team and the 2013 IIHF USA World Junior Championship Team win gold.

The Washington Capitals wasted little time in making sure he didn’t want to return to school for his senior season by signing him to a three-year entry level contract.  Barber would make the new contract pay for itself in the first year, as he would join the 2015-16 Hershey Bears and score 26 goals and 29 assists for 55 points in 74 games as an AHL rookie.  With production like this it would be fair to ask, when would Barber be called to the big club?

The answer to this question is more than a matter of when, but how would he fit into the big club?  At this time the Washington Capitals were in the middle of the self-appointed two-year window Brian MacLellan set for the team.  If you recall in the 2014-15 season, the Capitals used Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle as their main right wings.

This season resulted in the team getting eliminated in the second round by the New York Rangers, and a roster turnover to follow.  Joel Ward left in free agency and signed with the San Jose Sharks.  Even Eric Fehr left for a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  In anticipation for the exits, the Capitals sent Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Copley and a 3rd rounder to the St. Louis Blues for T.J. Oshie.  The Capitals then dipped into the free agent pool to sign Justin Williams.

During the 2015-16 season, Barbers rookie AHL season, the Capitals started their two-year window with their recent acquisitions at right wing to go along with Stanislav Galiev and Tom Wilson.  This obviously didn’t work as the Capitals gave Brett Connolly a last chance to prove his worth as a former first round pick, as a free agent addition in 2016-17.  Barber would also get his first shot, and unfortunately his only shot, to become a regular on the Capitals.  After 3 games and no points he was sent back down to Hershey.

The addition of Connolly would turn out to be a great fit and he would be rewarded with an extension.  Wilson showed greater skill and would then get the chance to move up in the line up beyond just a 4th line role.  With Justin Williams leaving in free agency this would have been a great opportunity for Barber to make the move up to the Capitals.  Sadly, when Barber was demoted back to the Bears during the 2016-17 season he wasn’t as productive.

The Capitals would go out and take another chance on a right wing cast-off in the mold of Connolly, by signing Devante Smith-Pelly to fill the 4th line right wing hole.  The rest is history, the Capitals would finish this season as Stanley Cup Champions.

Barber would use 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons in Hershey to work his way back to form.  When a team is in the hunt for the Stanley Cup they won’t take chances on filling out their roster with unproven players, who may or may not pan out.  So unfortunately, what originally looked like a great pairing of team and player, the opportunity just wasn’t there to show what he could contribute.  This resulted in Barber feeling his best shot laid with another organization, as he would sign with the Montreal Canadians in free agency.

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It was great to watch Barber grow as a player and bounce back from adversity, but we as fans will just have to wish him the best with his new team.  Perhaps we will get to see him in the NHL again in opposition to the Capitals someday.