American Hockey League

Barré-Boulet staying hungry, leading Crunch

📝 by Patrick Williams


AHL All-Star forward Alex Barré-Boulet has been one of Ben Groulx’s long-standing projects.

The Syracuse Crunch head coach has his star pupil playing all situations in perhaps his strong push yet to land a full-time National Hockey League job. Groulx does not dispense praise easily, but he lights up when the conversation turns to his leading scorer.

“He’s a competitor,” Groulx said. “He’s been our bread and butter all year. I feel that his game is better than ever.”

With 79 points, Barré-Boulet is one point off the AHL scoring lead held by Tucson’s Michael Carcone. The fifth-year pro had a brief NHL opportunity last season in Seattle after being claimed off waivers by the Kraken, only to land back with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization after only 11 days.

His 79 points and 56 assists are both career highs, as is his plus-25 rating. And he has nine points in his last five contests, earning Howies Hockey Tape/AHL Player of the Week honors for the period ending Sunday.

“When he’s on, he’s on,” Groulx said.

Well, he’s on, and he has been on for most of his time in Syracuse.

Barré-Boulet went undrafted, but he quickly proved that he can produce offensively at the AHL level. Signed by Tampa Bay in March 2018 after four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie in 2018-19, and has gone on to set Crunch franchise marks in goals (108), assists (169) and points (277).

But breaking into the Tampa Bay line-up has proven to be a challenge — not so surprisingly, really — for Barré-Boulet, who has only played 30 career games with the Lightning and just one this season. Jobs in Tampa Bay’s top-six have long been spoken for on a club that won the Stanley Cup in both 2020 and 2021 and then was a finalist again last year.

Barré-Boulet still has one more season left on a three-year deal he signed with the Lightning in 2021. Broadening his game in Syracuse can open opportunities whether in Tampa Bay or elsewhere, and Groulx continues to push his top forward to stay focused returning to the NHL.

“He understands more than ever what he has to do to play in the NHL,” Groulx said. “For me, the biggest challenge for him is to stay hungry, because it’s easy when you’re 25 years old, you’ve been in the AHL. You’re performing. You’re comfortable with your season. You’re comfortable with everything around you.

“But the goal is still for you to play in the NHL, right?”

And those opportunities can and do come, even if it takes longer than a young prospect likes. Yanni Gourde, another undersized forward out of the QMJHL who developed in Syracuse, spent five seasons in the AHL before blossoming in Tampa Bay, where he won two Stanley Cups before joining Seattle. Carter Verhaeghe played four AHL seasons — two in Syracuse — and is now a 40-goal scorer with the Florida Panthers. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting spent parts of six seasons in the AHL with the Arizona Coyotes organization before getting a full-time shot in Toronto last year at age 26.

“He’s got to stay hungry,” Groulx said of Barré-Boulet, who will turn 26 next month. “We don’t know what Tampa Bay is thinking or other teams are thinking, but when you look at Yanni Gourde back then — and I use him as an example — he stayed hungry. I never had to push Yanni Gourde, never had any conversation with Yanni Gourde: ‘You’re 25 years old. Maybe it’s your last chance.’

“He knew it.”

That message has reached Barré-Boulet, Groulx says.

“I think Alex is doing a great job at staying hungry and showing the way for his teammates.”

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