Last Act: New York Islanders’ Barzal Eliminated From Memorial Cup 2
Oct 15, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) skates with the puck as New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) defends in the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Although Mathew Barzal’s season came to a close on Tuesday night, it’s hard to find much to be upset about.

When Mathew Barzal was snagged midway through the first round of the 2015 Draft, the reaction was that the Islanders had scored the steal of the event.

After all, many pundits had labeled Barzal a top-flight talent and first-rate leader. His quickness and hockey sense even had some scouts comparing him to Pavel Datsyuk.

Fast-forward to this season, and Barzal was handed a nine-game tryout by head coach Jack Capuano. While that was short-lived, with him returning to Seattle after only two games (he served three costly penalties in the season’s opener, but didn’t get much additional playing time), it was, all things considered, a good thing for his development.

Steal of the Draft

Many consider Garth Snow‘s trade of Griffin Reinhart for the 16th and 28th picks, which turned into Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, to be a career-defining move.

“Barzal is an intelligent pivot and owns creative instincts,” Brendan Ross of Dobber Hockey wrote. “He’s always hovering around the puck looking to make a difference and with his slick puck skills and strong attacking skills, he usually finds a way.”

The center dominated Western Hockey League competition, sustaining his success and anchoring the Thunderbirds’ forwards corps. Of note, he was an assistant captain for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, where he posted impressive numbers.

It was at the WJC where Barzal showcased his talents: supreme skater, consistent point producer, impressive knowledge. Said Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, “[Barzal] may very well be Canada’s most skilled forward.”

Barzal also got the opportunity to showcase his talents at the Memorial Cup, where his T-Birds advanced for the first time in franchise history. In what could turn out to be a career-defining moment, Barzal was named WHL Playoffs MVP.

And although his season concluded on Tuesday evening with a 2-1 loss to the Saint Johns Sea Dogs, it’s hard to find much to be upset about. It’s not the norm for a kid to play in both the Memorial Cup and National Hockey League in the same calendar year, but that’s exactly what Barzal did.

This memorable season had its hiccups — illnesses, struggles and penalties. But it’s Barzal’s leadership for Seattle that will always be remembered.

“Getting Matthew back was a huge moment in our season because he’s our captain and such a big part of our leadership group,” T-Birds coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “He’s also obviously one of the best players in junior hockey.”

Like any other aspiring professional hockey player, Barzal wants to prove that he’s ready for the NHL. He’s almost certain to get that chance.

“I’d played exhibition games and I’d been through training camp, but there’s nothing like playing in a regular-season NHL game,” he said. “That’s something that I’m working hard to experience again.”

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.