The Vancouver Canucks have been interested in Cam Barker for a while, according to head coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Mike Gillis.
On Sunday, as training camps opened across the National Hockey League, the Canucks signed the 26-year-old defenceman to a one-year deal worth a reported $700,000.
The Canucks are Barker’s fourth NHL team during his career, which started with such high expectations when the Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the first round, third overall, of the 2004 draft.
However, the former Medicine Hat Tiger and Team Canada world junior standout has never played a full season in the league.
“Obviously…you only get so many opportunities in life,” Vigneault told reporters at Rogers Arena.
“Our guys have always felt that he had a tremendous amount of potential. For whatever reason, in the teams that he’s played on, they felt that they could go in another direction.”
Vigneault then cited Chris Higgins as someone who has gone through similar experiences to that of Barker.
Higgins, who the Canucks acquired at the 2011 trade deadline before going on a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, had played for five different teams in three seasons. That fifth stop was in Vancouver.
Higgins has since turned himself into one of Vancouver’s most versatile forwards.
“Maybe Cam can be that type of player,” said Vigneault.
Barker’s best NHL season, at least in terms of offensive production, came in 2008-09 when he scored six times and totaled 40 points in 68 games with the Blackhawks.
Chicago traded Barker to the Minnesota Wild in February of 2010, and things haven’t worked out so well for him ever since.
He experienced back problems in Minnesota – although he says that is no longer an issue. The Wild then bought out his contract at the end of June, 2011.
Last season, an ankle injury that required surgery kept him out of the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup for almost three months and reduced him to just 25 games.
“Obviously starting with injuries, I think puts you behind the eight ball. You’re always trying to catch up to where you were,” said Barker.
“I’ve got a lot to prove. I feel good and confident and like I said before, it’s baby steps for me here and I just want to keep building on that, stay healthy and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
A free agent this summer, Barker signed a 25-game professional tryout contract with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
He says he had the option of prolonging his stay with the Stars once his initial PTO expired, but decided against that, sensing an end to the lockout. He then dressed for the Canadian juggernaut that won last month’s Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
“It was a great opportunity,” said Barker of the Spengler Cup.
“I think otherwise you don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it during the season. You’re preoccupied with what’s going on the in the league but it was amazing week, an amazing team and I’m really glad I went.”
Vancouver’s top two defence pairings will likely have Kevin Bieksa playing with Dan Hamhuis, and Alex Edler alongside summer free agent signing Jason Garrison.
The Canucks are hoping that at 6’3” and 222 pounds, Barker – if he can remain healthy and play up to the potential of his draft selection – can at least give added depth on defence.
“He fits a need based on the last four seasons,” said Gillis.
“Our defence, we seem to constantly have injuries and we want to give him an opportunity to reinvent his career. We’ve done that with other players here and it’s worked out well for most of them.
“We think he’s got a real opportunity to contribute and help us out.”