The 2004 NHL Entry Draft is quickly becoming known for its depth in goal and on the blueline because of players like Cam Barker. The top rated defenseman in North America, Barker is the odds-on favorite to be the first defender selected at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft ceremony to be held in June.
The 6’3″, 205-lb. native of Winnipeg, Manitoba has all the tools that scouts want to see. He can pass the puck well or he can lug it up the ice himself when he chooses to. Barker controls the power play for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, using his strong, quick wrist shot as often as he unloads a powerful slap shot from the point.
Defensively, Barker is a tough player for the opposition to beat because of his size, strength, and his excellent positioning. He is a good skater but should not be considered a puck-rushing defenseman.
“I’d like to improve on my skating because that’s something you need at the next level, and I’d like to improve on my defensive zone play,” Barker said recently after an overtime loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. “I’ve improved a lot since last year, but there’s always room to improve.”
Medicine Hat selected Barker fourth overall in the Bantam draft, with the lanky defenseman choosing to play for the Tigers over an opportunity to play in the OHL.
“When I was 15 in Ontario I had the chance to play for the Ottawa 67’s, but I chose to come out
West because all the good defensemen that seem to get drafted come from the WHL,” smiled Barker.
Considering that the make-up of Canada’s defensive corps at the recent WJC in Finland consisted almost entirely of WHL players, Barker’s choice seems to have been a solid one. Earlier this season, when the touring team from Russia ventured through the three CHL leagues, Barker failed to make the WHL club to play against them.
“I was kind of disappointed,” Barker admitted. “But when you look at it, all the guys that made it were all drafted in the first round last year, but I would have liked the chance and I thought I deserved it. But maybe next year.”
That is not exactly an accurate statement, though, since Mike Green of the Saskatoon Blades did represent the WHL in that exhibition series. Green and Calgary Hitmen defender Jeff Schultz are the next two highly ranked blueliners who could rival Barker for his draft position by the time June rolls around.
“Green plays a lot in Saskatoon and he’s a pretty good all-around player,” said a complimentary Barker. “I know Schultz plays the power play and he does a very good job at it too.”
The fact that this season is a draft year can become an overriding problem for some players. Barker admits that it has played with his mind at times, as well.
“It is (distracting) at times but you have to try not to think about it all the time because it can get to you,” said the 17-year-old defenseman. “You have to keep it in the back of your head and try and play your game.”
Barker will turn 18 in April during what he hopes is an extension to the Tigers’ playing schedule.
“I think this year has gone great so far; there are still things I’d like to improve on and I want to carry this team as far as I can into the playoffs, but we’ll see what happens,” Barker stated. “The Memorial Cup, it’s a dream of mine and I think we have a good chance with this team but we have to work hard.”
As a teammate of Jay Bouwmeester’s, Barker often hears comparisons to the last phenomenal Tiger defender to gain pre-draft fame. The comparison might not be fair, however, although it should be noted that Barker has now equalled Bouwmeester’s best year statistically in the WHL.
“Jay Bouwmeester played in Medicine Hat so I’ve heard comparisons to him, but we play two different styles of play,” summed up Barker. “But he played in the NHL when he was 18 and if I can do that it would be unbelievable.”
Time will tell, but for now Cam Barker is trying to focus on this season and the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Barker is currently ranked 4th in North America by Central Scouting and 6th overall by the International Scouting Service.