There are two ways to look at Alexander Barabanov.
On one hand, the San Jose Sharks acquired Barabanov, probably their fourth-best forward this past season, for literally zero NHL cost. Since the Sharks traded for Barabanov at the 2021 Trade Deadline, he’s put up 46 points in 79 games. Antti Suomela, who went the other way to Toronto, has scored 28 points in 55 AHL contests and is playing in the SHL next year.
This was, no exaggeration, one of the most lopsided trades in recent NHL history. For a Sharks organization that has struggled to find credible depth up front since their 2019 Western Conference Finals appearance, swapping an AHL player for a legitimate middle-six NHL forward has been a god-send.
On the other hand, if you’re serious about making the playoffs, Barabanov probably shouldn’t be your fourth-best forward. While Barabanov has proven to be a solid complement to San Jose’s best forwards, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, he’s shown little capacity for creating offense on his own.
Underscoring this, per Evolving Hockey, Meier-Hertl-Barabanov averaged 3.65 Goals Per 60 at 5-on-5, a solid 13th among the 34 lines that skated over 300 minutes together this past year.
But away from Meier and Hertl, Barabanov’s lines averaged 0.82 Goals Per 60 at 5-on-5. This figure was lower even than the San Jose Sharks’ anemic 1.65 Goals Per 60 at 5-on-5 without Meier and Hertl on the ice.
I don’t point this out to condemn Barabanov: It’s not his fault that he’s San Jose’s fourth-best forward. If anything, it’s incumbent on the Sharks, if they really want to make the playoffs next year, to find a forward or two or three to slot ahead of Barabanov on the depth chart. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russian winger loses his place next to Meier or Hertl, that could mean better forwards to surround second-line center Logan Couture.
The 27-year-old Barabanov carries a reasonable $2.5 million AAV in each of the next two seasons.
“I have him as a middle-six on a non-playoff team. More third line on a playoff team.
“Think he hit his upside this past season. Don’t see him being much more productive.”
“I just think that, on our team, [Alex] supplies that certain level of skill we may not have in some other players.
“If you look at our top-six forwards, I think that he probably fits in as a top-six skill forward here.” (Bob Boughner)
One of the reasons why Barabanov fits well with Hertl and Meier is his underrated puck protection ability. Like Hertl and Meier, Barabanov is tough to handle below the dots. The 5-foot-10 winger is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest skater, but he’s crafty along the wall with the puck, able to hold off many a defender by staying long and low to the ice but quick on his feet.
Per SPORTLOGiQ, he’s third among regular Sharks forwards with 00:26 OZ Possession Time Per Game at 5-on-5.
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