The Capitals continued their tradition of inviting a guest coach to rookie camp this week, bringing in Miami RedHawks Coach Enrico Blasi to work with the organization’s prospects alongside members of Washington’s NHL and AHL coaching staffs.
It’s an opportunity for Blasi, who has been Miami’s coach since 1999, to add to his own repertoire of coaching techniques and for the Capitals to grow more familiar with a standout NCAA bench boss who is currently overseeing the progress of one of their top prospects.
Riley Barber, Washington’s sixth-round pick in 2012, will enter his sophomore year at Miami this fall after a standout freshman season that saw him earn CCHA rookie of the year honors and regular top-line duties. To maintain his amateur status, Barber cannot attend rookie camp but I took the opportunity to catch up with Blasi about the talented winger.
“Riley has obviously tremendous skill. He’s played at the highest level for his age group and he’s a big part of our team and our program. His passion for the game, his knowledge for the game is really dead on,” Blasi said. “For us, it’s just a matter of making sure that he’s focused on what he needs to do and be professional about it. He’s got tremendous insight into the game. I get a kick out of it because even if I ask him a simple question, I get sometimes a long-winded answer but he’s right on. Hopefully he continues to develop and when the time comes he’s ready.”
During his time at Miami, Blasi has worked with several players who have gone on to the NHL including Andy Greene (New Jersey), Ryan Jones (Edmonton) and Reilly Smith (Boston). He sees the same elevated understanding of the game in Barber that he once saw in those players, something that tells him if a player will be able to make the transition to the NHL.
“Those guys, when they were on the ice, you knew they were going to get an opportunity to play at that level. They just did things differently. Riley’s got that mold as well,” Blasi said. “He just sees it different. He’s a little bit different in the way he thinks the game and some of the things he does you can tell he’s going to translate. It’s the little detail stuff, the one-timer, where he goes in front of the net, how he creates space for himself those kind of things.”
This season holds new challenges for Barber, who will face increased expectations and the heightened awareness of opponents to continue making a significant impact as an offensive player. They’re important adjustments for Barber’s continued progression but ones Blasi knows he is capable of.
“He becomes a marked man, so he’s got to learn to play in that role,” Blasi said adding that Barber’s focus must be on consistency. “ In order to do that you’ve got to continue to do little things, little detail stuff that I don’t care who you are or what level you’re at you’re going to have to continue to do those things if you want to play at the highest level. There’s lots of things Riley needs to work on, he knows that we’re harping on him every day…..You’re never going to stop getting better and the higher you go, the more consistent you have to be so to learn that at a young age is important.”