When Craig Berube took over the Wolves’ coaching duties he understood he had two responsibilities.
Not only was he tasked with returning the Wolves to the AHL playoffs, but he also was involved in developing players for the St. Louis Blues, the Wolves’ parent club.
Berube has the Wolves in second place in the Central Division, three points behind Grand Rapids. But the team’s success has sent four players to the Blues.
Center Wade Megan became the latest to make the move to St. Louis. He joined left winger Kenny Agostino, center Ivan Barbashev and left winger Magnus Paajarvi.
But the call-ups have stripped the Wolves of their three leading scorers and Berube has had to adjust.
“It’s good that guys are up there playing — we’re happy and that’s where they want to be,” Berube said. “That’s what their goal is. But the other side of it is that we’ve got guys that we’re going to bring up from the East Coast League or guys that are here that have a bigger role now.”
The Wolves’ call-ups have scored at the NHL level at some point this season. Barbashev became the latest when he scored his first career goal earlier this month against Ottawa.
In his ninth game with the Blues Wednesday night Barbashev notched his second NHL goal in the Blues’ 2-0 victory over the Red Wings. The 22-year-old Russian notched 19 goals and 18 assists this season for the Wolves.
Barbashev, a second-round draft pick in 2014, was plugged into a role by Berube that often placed him in the high-traffic zone in front of the net. There, he found success as a goal-scorer both on the Wolves’ top lines and power play and developed a toughness that comes in a position that draws a lot of contact.
But Barbashev realized the more he proved himself, the more he would be noticed in St. Louis.
“Every time I go in there, I know I’m going to get something [physical],” Barbashev said last month. “Every team has to play in front of the net and they have to protect everything. Every time I go in there, I know it’s going to be hard, but I have to stay in there and battle through it.”
Like his fellow call-ups, Barbashev focused on filling his role with the Wolves rather than dwelling on his NHL future.
But when the chances come, Berube is often among the first to wish his players well.
After coaching the Flyers for two seasons before landing with the Wolves, Berube saw players make the jump while dealing with an upgrade in competitiveness and skill level.
The rest, Berube said, is up to them.
“They know what to expect,” he said. “The one thing you can control is how hard you work and how competitive you are. If you’re competitive, you’re going to be OK.”
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