|2023 NHL Draft Eligible|
|Position: LW, Shoots: L|
|H/W: 6’1”, 187lbs|
|Date of Birth: 2005-02-14|
It’s not easy to score 30 goals as a U17 player in the OHL, but Colby Barlow did that last year for the Owen Sound Attack. Only Shane Wright, Jacob Perreault, Arthur Kaliyev, and Cole Perfetti had accomplished the feat in the last decade. This set up lofty expectations for Barlow heading into his draft year. Thus far, he has delivered. As of writing this, Barlow sits third in OHL goal scoring with 27 goals in 35 games. This puts him on pace to score 50 as a U18 player, a feat accomplished even less frequently than 30 as a U17 player. Only John Tavares, Alex Debrincat, Steve Stamkos, Arthur Kaliyev, and Jeff Skinner have scored 50 as U18 players this millennium.
However, Barlow is more than just an accomplished junior goal scorer and that is what has made him a potential lottery selection for this year’s NHL draft. Even as a 17 year old (his 18th birthday is next month), he is serving as the captain for the Owen Sound Attack. This is a testament to his terrific character. Additionally, his game on the ice is extremely well rounded. He has a positive impact on the game at both ends of the ice and can be utilized in any situation. With good size and speed, in addition to a strong understanding of how to position himself without the puck, Barlow projects as a versatile, two-way top six winger at the NHL level.
That isn’t to say that his game is perfect; there are areas that require further development in order for him to reach his upside. Barlow’s transitional impact is limited at times by his inability to handle or accept passes in full stride. Additionally, he can get bottled up in the neutral zone due to a lack of creativity as a puck handler. Without question, Barlow is currently at his best either without the puck, or with the puck down low inside the hash marks.
There are some in our scouting circle who wonder if his development has already piqued thanks to his physical/athletic gifts and early maturation; the classic case of a bigger/stronger young player dominating the junior level against less mature competition. However, I do not subscribe to this theory. It’s not as if Barlow is 6’4, 210lbs and dominating down low simply due to his physical gifts. He’s 6’1 and not even 190lbs. If you watch Barlow play, the physical components to his game are actually inconsistent. As he matures further and improves his conditioning further, there is room for him to become even more dominant in all three zones.
Additionally, while his lack of creativity and ability to problem solve out of traffic in transition is somewhat concerning, it’s not inconceivable to believe that his small area skill can improve further. Also, further improvements to his edgework and overall agility (similar to say…Mason McTavish), could help to unlock more consistent on puck play. The reality is, Barlow has a very safe projection as a complementary piece on a scoring line who can be on the ice to protect a lead or when a goal is needed. Goal scorers who play both ends effectively are rare. These types typically transition to the NHL very well.
One of the keys to Barlow’s success on the ice is his first step quickness and linear speed. A traditional North/South attacker, Barlow builds speed quickly with powerful, long strides. With a wide base, he is also very difficult to knock off stride already. Once he builds a head of steam, Barlow can be a load for junior aged defenders to handle one on one. Barlow does also occasionally use linear crossovers to help him push into the middle of the ice, making his path less predictable for the opposition. As mentioned in the preamble, the hands haven’t quite caught up to the feet yet, but his quickness is used very efficiently on the forecheck and to help him escape defenders as he beats them to the slot, opening himself up as a passing option. What could be improved is Barlow’s lateral explosiveness and overall confidence on his edges. By becoming a little more agile, Barlow’s elusiveness with the puck would improve. This would help to ease some of those concerns over his transitional play and it would help him gain more clean looks to use his excellent shot.
This is a clip from the Hlinka/Gretzky in the summer. Working on the penalty kill, Barlow goes end to end, showing off both his explosiveness, and his ability to use linear crossovers to gain clearance. As such, he catches the Swedish defender flat footed and gets a clean look on a partial break.
Another play where Barlow catches a defender flat footed with his speed. A couple quick crossovers after receiving the puck and Barlow has built enough speed to get behind the Windsor defenseman to earn a look in tight.
This is a drive from the same game against Windsor. Barlow picks up enough speed in the neutral zone to get past the Spitfires defender. Even more impressively, Barlow maintains his balance post contact, allowing him to get a shot on net. The subsequent rebound is deposited for a goal.
Barlow just rarely loses a race to the puck. This makes him such a strong complementary piece and sets him up well for success at the next level. That combination of size and speed is deadly on the forecheck and in puck pursuit.
As mentioned, Barlow’s ability to blend his speed and skill together is inconsistent. We had the earlier clip against Sweden to show that he can beat defenders one on one by using linear crossovers or by protecting the puck well while building speed. However, there are a lot of plays just like this one where Barlow’s stride gets too wide and his lack of agility while in possession prevents him from getting behind defenders.
The mark of a truly excellent goal scorer is the ability to score in many different ways. That is Colby Barlow. He can beat goaltenders clean with a wrist shot coming down the wing. He can one-time pucks on the powerplay near the hash marks. He finishes off plays in the slot and near the crease on the forehead and the backhand; those greasy goals also point to his excellent anticipation without the puck. He also holds position near the crease for redirections. Simply put, you don’t score as many goals in the OHL as Barlow has without a lot of tricks in his bag. That said, his shooting ability could still improve further. There are times where he does not catch the puck cleanly, and it negatively affects his timing and release. There are other times where his lack of four-way explosiveness and blending ability prevent him from getting clean looks for his wrist shot. If Barlow could work to incorporate a toe drag into his repertoire more consistently, it could help him get clearance from sticks and shot blockers.
This was from last year’s OHL playoffs. A few things are very impressive about this goal. Firstly, he understands how to slide into open space off this faceoff, pushing off to slide into a gap on the flank. Secondly, this one timer is an absolute rocket, however even more impressive is how he times it up perfectly while still moving backwards. This was not a one timer from a stand still.
What a great play by Barlow here. Again we see his speed put to use as he tracks down a dump in (intentionally hammered off the boards by the Owen Sound defender, noticing that Barlow had a step on Oshawa’s defenders) and fires one home from an awkward angle.
Barlow flies into the Peterborough zone and scores with a well placed wrist shot to the far side.
One of the instances I alluded to regarding Barlow’s inability to catch pucks cleanly at times. That slight bobble not only allows the Peterborough netminder to slide across quickly, but it also causes Barlow to miss the mark on his shot attempt. He consistently gets himself in such a great shooting position, especially from this area and he routinely ends up with clean looks in the slot by anticipating rebounds or working behind defenders. If that catch and release can be cleaned up a little, he’d be an even more deadly goal scorer.
This is by far the most widely debated area of Barlow’s game. Critics of Barlow and his potential point to some of his skill limitations currently. The criticisms of his game are just. He does struggle to consistently handle passes in transition and in full stride. He does fumble clean looks or heel shots from time to time, even when not under direct pressure. He is not the kind of electric offensive player who can create by problem solving in transition; end to end rushes are not Colby Barlow. However, you have to examine Barlow’s game under the correct lens. At the NHL level, he’s not going to be the kind of player relied upon to be a primary play creator or in charge of zone entry. He will be the type of player asked to find success in puck retrieval, while also driving the net and working the cycle. Look at the kind of success Michael Bunting is having playing with Auston Matthews. Bunting was never the kind of junior player to lead the offensive attack and he’s not asked to do that in the NHL either. Patric Hornqvist is another great example. And neither of these two have the skating ability that Barlow does. It is reasonable to believe that Barlow’s small area skill and ability to cleanly corral pucks will improve. And if they do, he is a smart enough player and still skilled enough to be a long time top six winger. Additionally, Barlow’s skill as a passer is underrated and underappreciated by scouts, at least in my opinion. He may not consistently create significant scoring chances for his linemates with his ability to push pace off the rush, but he does have a great touch as a passer when operating down low. He routinely recovers pucks below the hash marks and finds open teammates for chances.
Sometimes transitional attacks just die on Barlow’s stick with his inability to cleanly receive passes at full stride. This is one such example. If Barlow corrals that, he likely breaks in alone. Instead, it’s a broken play.
Here we see Barlow attempting to pick up a loose puck in the neutral zone in order to break in shorthanded. He over skates the puck and this fumble results in him failing to create a breakaway. If Barlow picks this up cleanly, with his speed, he breaks in alone and likely scores. Instead, the Rangers defender catches up and deflects Barlow’s shot attempt.
An area of Barlow’s that is massively underrated is his playmaking touch. He’s more than just a pure goal scorer. Exhibit A is this terrific play in overtime to seal victory for the Attack. He saucers a perfect pass on to teammate Gavin Bryant’s stick for the winner. Also impressive was how Barlow handled the poor initial pass at his feet, keeping stride to keep the play onside.
This is the component to Barlow’s game that will end up being his ticket to becoming a long time NHL player. The physical tools are terrific, yes, but his head for the game, anticipation in all three zones, and overall awareness on the ice contribute to his “smarts” being his best asset. Barlow sniffs out scoring chances like an airport security canine. He routinely gets open looks in the home plate area. And it’s not just because he takes up position near the crease and happens to find his way to scoring chances by circumstance. Barlow often operates as the F1 and is very active along the wall. His ability to cycle and shed defenders to find open space may be among the best in this draft class, not just in the OHL. When he has the puck in the offensive zone, once the game slows down, he rarely turns it over. He protects it well along the wall and in the cycle and he has great vision coming off the wall. As mentioned, his ability as a playmaker and passer is vastly underrated. As a three-zone player and overall defensive presence, Barlow is extremely effective because of his stick placement and anticipation. Combine that with his quickness and it easily explains why he excels as a penalty killer. The key for Barlow will be to become a more consistent physical presence as that would elevate his defensive game even further.
Part of Barlow’s effectiveness comes from his skating ability and the consistency with which he wins races to the puck. Part of it comes from his anticipation and play reading ability. This is an instance like that. He catches the Erie defender behind the net, pokes the puck to a teammate and the result is a goal.
We talked about Barlow’s passing ability being underrated, but so is his vision with the puck and overall playmaking sense. So many of Barlow’s assists this year have looked just like this. He tracks down a dump in or forces a turnover on the forecheck. Then he spins off a check to find a trailer or a teammate driving the net for a goal. Again, he’s more than just a pure goal scorer. It’s this vision that really makes me believe that he can be a fixture on an NHL scoring line with a play driving and pace driving center.
Love how Barlow finds the soft spot in coverage here. Then he opens himself up for a clean look that he buries.
To highlight Barlow’s defensive prowess, I had my pick of many clips. Not only is he highly intelligent and understands how to position himself without the puck, but Barlow can also be a physical presence who competes hard to force turnovers and win puck battles. In this clip we see his excellent anticipation in the defensive end. Rather than attack the Swiss player physically, he jumps the pass back to the point, identifying this as the player’s only option. Then he creates another great scoring chance with his speed.
Most of the time Barlow’s physicality and compete are outstanding. At the Hlinka/Gretzky, he consistently excelled as a two-way, physical presence in a lock down role. As a member of the Owen Sound Attack, he plays that same role. In the offensive zone, he is consistently dialed in. He engages physically to win battles, especially when he is the first Attack forward into the zone. Barlow is unquestionably one of the OHL’s top forecheckers. On the backcheck, Barlow is a significant presence because of his size and speed. He can chase down puck carriers and force them off the puck. In the defensive zone (coverage), however, at times I find that the same energy is not consistently applied. The potential is there for him to develop into not just a good two-way forward, but a potentially elite defensive forward. His reads are excellent. Perhaps these inconsistencies are due to conditioning issues? As he gains experience in the league and continues to focus on off ice training, I do expect him to become a truly dominant physical presence…in all three zones.
Look at Barlow competing here to apply pressure to Michael Buchinger, preventing a clean breakout. This eventually leads to a turnover and a near goal for the Attack.
Another strong forecheck from Barlow leads to a turnover and a near goal for the Attack.
This should be prefaced with the fact that it’s at the end of a shift and Barlow is clearly tired. However, two weak back check attempts lead to a Barrie goal here. The only thing truly preventing Barlow from being a dominant two-way player is the consistency of his physicality.
A note on the 20-80 scale used above. We look at five attributes (skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ and physicality) for skaters and six for goalies (athleticism/quickness, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control and puck handling). Each individual attribute is graded along the 20-80 scales, which includes half-grades. The idea is that a projection of 50 in a given attribute meant that our observer believed that the player could get to roughly NHL average at that attribute at maturity