It is a special night for players on both Cornell and Boston University when they play face off at Madison Square Garden; they’ve done so biannually since 2007. It was uniquely special for Cornell freshman Morgan Barron.
Amidst all of the drama surrounding the selections of Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in this past summer’s first round, the Rangers also quietly scooped up Barron in the middle of the sixth round. Five months later, he was playing on Madison Square Garden ice.
“It definitely lived up to the hype,” Morgan claimed after the game.
While there may not have been much hype for Barron himself, the 18-year-old certainly created some with his performance. Slotted on the second line against a vaunted group of BU forwards, he shined brightest, with two primary assists and four shots on goal in a 4-3 Cornell victor; their first ever on Garden ice against BU.
Barron was not even supposed to attend Cornell this academic year. As is becoming increasingly popular for many NCAA-committed players, Barron was slated to take a gap year and play in the USHL before attending Cornell in the fall of 2018.
When analyzing Barron last summer, it was easy to see the merit to waiting a year. Listed at 6’2, 200 last summer, Barron had NHL size already. However, effectively using that size was still a work in progress. He was a strong skater when in motion, but took a few extra steps to get to top speed. He possessed incredible raw talent, but lacked polish. That was enough for Barron be a top player at St. Andrew’s, a prep school based in Ontario. But while the school is certainly credible both academically and athletically, it is still a step down from junior hockey; let alone the NCAA. An intermediary year in a high-caliber junior league made sense as his next step up the ladder.
However, that plan changed.
“We had a kid who decided to not come to Cornell in February and Morgan was already in the pipeline. We went and saw him play and he did all of the right things, played the game the right way,” Cornell Head Coach Mike Schafer told Blueshirt Banter.
The move has paid off early. Following Barron’s performance at the Garden, for which he was named third star of the game, he has totaled three goals and six assists through 10 games. The ECAC conference isn’t exactly the gaudiest in college hockey, but it’s a competitive one that tilts towards older, more mature players. And Barron ranks second in points-per-game among the ECAC’s 27 NHL-drafted skaters. Schafer acknowledged that Barron’s transition to college hockey is a “rarity.”
“It’s his maturity,” Schafer explained as Barron’s reason for success so soon. “It’s not the age (that matters), it’s how physically and mentally mature. And he’s got both.
Barron too felt right away that he belonged despite the tremendous leap in playing difficulty from high school hockey.
“It’s a different game for sure, but when I came in I wanted to have the mentality that I deserved to be here,” Barron said after the game. “I think a lot of credit needs to go to our leadership group. When I came in they gave me a sense of confidence, and they’re always checking in and making sure I still have that confidence.”
Any sort of NHL success is still way off in the distance. However, the Rangers have to be elated with what Barron has shown them thus far. The numbers look good, and so do the visuals. Though the size advantage is not the same as in high school hockey, it’s still there. He uses his massive frame to shield the puck well in the offensive zone, finding space to carry the puck and buy time for teammates to provide a passing option. He sets up along the left half-boards on Cornell’s second power play unit, and against BU he did a terrific job of finding passing options in the slot for quality scoring chances. Though he was drafted as a center, he is playing left wing for Cornell and defended well in his own zone. Where he ran into trouble a few times was in his neutral zone defending, as BU’s speedy defenders were able to side step him when he tried to defend the space with size alone. That’s an example of something that wasn’t a problem in high school but for which is now learning to adjust for against better competition.
Random chance is an inescapable contributor to success. In an alternate universe, Cornell has no hiccups in their recruiting process and Barron plays a year of junior hockey, as initially intended. Instead, circumstances provided him an opportunity, and now he’s a key contributor for one of the top college teams; Cornell were ranked seventh in the nation entering the weekend. An inauspicious sixth-round pick just five months ago, Barron has taken tremendous strides towards his goal of returning to Madison Square Garden in a blue sweater some years down the road.