Riley Barber admits that while being selected in the NHL Draft last June was a dream come true, having to wait until the sixth-round (167th overall) for his name to be called was a major disappointment.
Rather than feel sorry for himself though, the Washington Capitals prospect says that he used his draft position as motivation heading into his freshman season at Miami University.
“I’d say that yeah I really wanted to prove something to all of the people that passed me by in the [earlier] rounds [of the NHL Draft],” Barber recently told the Capitals Radio Network.
“But I really just knew that getting drafted really doesn’t mean anything; it’s what you do after the draft to make your dream [a reality], which for me is to play in the NHL.”
Barber is likely still a few years away from reaching the NHL, but the 19-year-old has gone a long way this season towards making that dream a reality.
The freshman led Miami in scoring with 36 points (15 goals and 19 assists) in 34 games and was a key cog on a RedHawks team that finished the regular-season this past weekend atop the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) standings.
“You never expect to have this much success this early in your career, but I can’t say that I’m not happy it happened,” said Barber, who not only led the CCHA with 36 points but was also tops in scoring among all freshman nationwide.
“Coach [Enrico Blasi] has a lot of respect for me- not that coaches in the past haven’t had respect for me- but he’s giving me a ton of opportunity on the first power play [unit], playing on the penalty kill and playing in all situations and I think that’s helped tremendously for my numbers.”
Barber is listed at 5’11”, 185 lbs and spent much of his freshman season on Miami’s No.1 line with sophomore Austin Czarnik and senior Curtis McKenzie (Dallas Stars) – a trio that combined for 38 percent of RedHawks scoring.
“It’s been quite a ride so far,” he said. “I’d say that I worked real hard in the offseason and just to come in here and have the coaches’ respect and especially to play in the situations I’ve been playing in is unbelievable and I’m really glad, but I couldn’t do it without the team that I have now.”
Miami finished the regular-season 22-9-5 and begins the post-season ranked third in the country behind only top-ranked Quinnipiac and No.2 Minnesota.
Barber is seeking his second championship of the year, having already won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ufa, Russia in January.
“It was something that I’ll never forget,” Barber said of the WJC experience. “I was just honored to be on that team and to be given an opportunity was unbelievable.
“We had another great group of guys there, with all the guys that I used to play with [in the U.S. National Development Program] a lot of old friends so just the way it all happened and all came together at the right time was something that I won’t forget.”
In a tournament dominated by first and second-round NHL draftees, Barber fit in just fine with Team USA (coached by former Capitals defenseman Phil Housley), collecting three goals and six points in seven games.
Barber played primarily on the Americans’ third-line with fellow Miami RedHawk Sean Kuraly (San Jose Sharks) and current Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk.
“I didn’t really know that he was playing with the Canadiens until I was watching a game on the NHL Network and then I see his name on the back on the jersey and I was like ‘is that Galchenyuk?!’ So I look at the roster and I’m like ‘man I can’t believe I got to play with that kid for a week or two [at the World Juniors]’ and to see the success that he’s having now is awesome.
“Playing with Sean- it was awesome coming back [home] knowing that you got to play and win a gold medal with one of your brothers and we’ll always have that bond I think for the rest of our lives so that’s really special.”
Now Barber and Kuraly will look to create another lasting bond as Miami seeks its third ever trip to the Frozen Four and the program’s first national championship.
The RedHawks earned a first-round bye in the CCHA Playoffs and will host a best-of-three second-round series beginning Friday March 15.
There is also the possibility that the sixth-round pick can add some personal hardware to his collection as the NCAA Rookie of the Year.
“Yeah, I think it would be great for me to do that but obviously you’d rather have team success over individual” Barber said.
“I’m just looking forward to helping my team out any way I can, but yeah, that would definitely be a nice little touch if that could happen.”