The Blackhawks are lacking in upper-tier forward prospects.
So if 2017 third-rounder Evan Barratt — long considered one of the few higher-upside forwards in the pipeline — can cement himself as a future top-six guy, the Hawks would be thrilled.
And it seems Barratt indeed is doing that.
“I‘ve just worked on my hands in tight, and catching and receiving passes, and [keeping] my feet in motion and making passes and trying to be more deceptive, and just playing with the puck on my stick more,” said Barratt, who will turn 21 in a few weeks. “It’s given me the all-around confidence in my game.”
For the second consecutive year, Penn State’s 6-foot center — although he may project as a winger — is one of the top producers in the Big Ten, with 28 points (nine goals and 19 assists) through 26 games.
This comes after a 2018-19 season when he scored 43 points in 32 NCAA games and made seven appearances in the World Junior U-20 Championships. In the end, Barratt underwent hip surgery last spring, causing him to participate off-ice only at the Blackhawks’ development camp in July but helping him come back stronger after resting and rehabbing.
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said Barratt’s fitness-test scores, including sprints and laps, are much-improved as a result.
“He’s always practicing around different skills, different plays, but what separates him is his ability to make very unique plays at game speed,” Gadowsky said. “A lot of players can, when no one’s around and no one’s hitting you, do different things with the puck. But he’s able to do it at game speed, and that’s what is really amazing about him.”
Barratt’s skating has always been considered the biggest concern in his portfolio. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, even while ranking Barratt the Hawks’ sixth-best prospect before the season, wrote that his “stride is wonky and lacks any real explosiveness.”
The Pennsylvania native, coincidentally drafted with the pick the Hawks acquired for Scott Darling, has acknowledged that weakness and worked tirelessly to fix it, concentrating his workouts on his legs and core.
“I’ve been trying to get faster [with] my first couple steps when I get the puck,” he said. “I’ve been trying to play faster and make decisions faster.
“[I’m] trying to be conscious of — when I get the puck — to move first and try to keep my feet moving the whole time during a drill or during a scrimmage. Trying to make it become habit for a game.”
If his skating gets up to speed (pun intended), his other skills will make him a very exciting weapon for the Hawks.
Barratt has, after all, been a highlight machine with the Nittany Lions. His lacrosse goal from last season — before it became a viral NHL craze, too — may have been one-upped this season, when Barratt lifted up then batted in a puck among four defenders.
Barratt evaded a question about whether he’s planning to turn pro after this season — with Penn State ranked No. 8 nationally, he does have a more pressing objective right now — but said he has been in close contact with the Hawks about “making little adjustments” that he’ll “need at the next level.”
Gadowsky, however, said he believes Barratt’s trajectory will carry him to the NHL soon.
“The plays that he’s able to make at game speed . . . are just things you can’t coach, you can’t teach,” he said. “That’s what really separates him from the average player. That’s a skill that will translate at any level.”