There is no off-season for us here at Prospect Watch, so here is yet another player you should be keeping an eye out for. His name is Asher Barnett, and he is a 16-year-old left-hand shot defenseman from Wilmette, Illinois. He came to my attention after playing the last two seasons for one of the premier AAA feeder programs out of the Midwest, the Chicago Mission. A team that helped mold and develop a former NHL defenseman you may have heard of that goes by the name Dustin Byfuglien.

Now, while Barnett may not have Byfuglien’s size of 6’5, 250+ pounds, he does manage to play much larger than his current 6’0, 181-pound frame would appear to allow. So much so that Asher looked like a man playing amongst boys this season; using his strength, Barnett halted the opposition’s onslaught by setting his point of no retreat at his blue line. But administering a soul-crushing hit to stop his opponents’ advances is not the only way Barnett uses his size to his advantage. Asher also excels in board battles where he often comes away with the puck, seeing that when his challengers try to knock him off of it, they usually just end up bouncing off of him. Additionally, Barnett often utilizes his brute strength to exhibit old-school defensive tactics like winning positioning battles in front of his goaltenders’ net. He does so by way of, lifting his advisory’s stick to not only prevent his opponent from scoring (by way of a deflection or rebound) but eradicates the threat altogether by then muscling them out of the area so that his netminder can then have a clear view of the puck coming in from the point.

But physicality is not the only part of his game. Barnett is considered a two-way defenseman for a reason.

With his head constantly on the swivel and his skates continuously in motion, Asher’s ability to transition from a defensive mindset while skating backward to suddenly switching gears and jumping up with the rush on offense is unmatched by anyone in his age group. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that if you’re playing against him, and you see Barnett leading the breakout, please don’t think you’ll just step up and take the puck from him because he will probably end up breaking your ankles. He does so by waiting for the opposition to lunge at him so that he can then stop on a dime and head in the other direction.

Better still, once he and his team find their way into the offensive zone, Asher often feels so inclined to show off his talent of dancing along the blue line while they cycle the puck around to try and find where best to unload a shot from.

If no shot presents itself- fear not, as Barnett has shown it to be no problem in taking it upon himself to create a little offense. Gifted with a great set of hands (especially for a defenseman), Asher has proven time and time again that he is fully capable of taking the most direct route to the net by weaving his way through the opposition’s defense with ease. And or deciding on a more scenic route where he sticks handles along the boards with one hand while fending off his foes with the other before crashing the net himself or passing it back out in front to an awaiting teammate.

As far as his shot goes, if Barnett presently finds himself at the point, opposing goaltenders best be ready, as Asher is proficient in the art of the one-timer. If he is on the move, however, netminders should expect one wicked wrister to come their way.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who is a fan of his skill set, though. Barnett recently made the cut to be a member of the 2023-24 U.S. National Development Under-17 Team. Will he still be able to shine playing alongside some of the best this nation has to offer? I think so, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.