WHEELING - A guy scored 33 goals in his rookie season and can't get a sniff? Not a look, or at the very least a phone call from an American Hockey League club?
If you think you're miffed by Chris Barton being back in a Wheeling Nailers uniform, try being the ECHL All-Rookie winger who led the club with 64 points. It's easy to see why the 25-year-old Calgary native enters his second professional season with a chip on his shoulder.
''But I realize that right now because of the lockout it's tough,'' Barton said. ''I'm excited for some of the guys on our team that are going to be coming back, that did get a chance in the American League.
''I'm just going to keep doing the same things. You can't really worry about what's going on around you.''
Given his skill set, there's generally a lot going on around Barton, whose career high in goals prior to last year came in his junior season at Merrimack College, when he potted 19.
''Probably not,'' Barton said when asked if he could have envisioned that type of success right away. ''I definitely had some pretty good linemates and we had a pretty good team too, which helped.''
He may not have gotten the chance to prove he could play in an AHL city, but the lockout presents the unique opportunity to play against that level of competition in the ECHL.
''That's one thing I am looking forward to,'' Barton said. ''Obviously the league is going to be quite a bit different, so if you can prove yourself at this level this year, then it might give you a good look.''
So you're probably wondering what a guy who in his rookie year scored almost a point per game, can do to improve. Well, Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli sent Barton off this summer with a very specific set of instructions.
''I wanted 'Barts' to work on his wall play and work defensively, because you have to be good defensively to go up to the next level,'' the coach said. ''I wanted him to get in the gym and get stronger and faster. I want him to improve on his play away from the puck.''
What do you think Barton worked on?
''I want to do whatever it takes to get to the next level, so I did a lot of board play this summer,'' he said. ''I've got to get stronger in 1-on-1 battles and I think that's the most important.
''I know I can score and that will come, but the hard work's got to be there every night and that's what I've been working on.''
Barton said one of the hardest parts of turning pro was the number of games you play at this level and the toll that takes on a player's body.
''That's the key that I have tried to work on, is consistency,'' he said. ''That's the hardest part, is to play the same way for 72 games.
''That's the thing college guys have got to realize is, it is a grind after about January.''
And he's poised to become a leader on this season's team. It wasn't all that long ago that he was the wide-eyed rookie asking questions, but he's on the other end of the equation these days.
''I know what to expect (and) I know what those guys are going through. The only thing I can do is help them through it,'' Barton said. ''I'm one of the veteran guys from last year, and if they come to me I will try to help them any way I can.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com