ESNY reviews the season of New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal and offers a grade to his performance in his rookie campaign in the NHL.
Mathew Barzal is next up in ESNY’s series of reviewing—and grading—the New York Islanders in 2017-18. His report card may turn out to be the easiest to complete of all the Isles from this past season.
For this compilation, I am changing the categories that we have used previously.
Six games into the season, Barzal was stuck on zero points. All signs pointed to a lost season for No. 13, who didn’t look like the player that tore up the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2016-17. He certainly didn’t look ready for the NHL.
He finally notched his first point on October 15, assisting on a Josh Bailey goal. Four days later, he put a well-placed shot behind the shoulder of New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at MSG for his first NHL goal.
Then Jordan Eberle entered the picture.
When he was placed on a line with Eberle, Barzal’s stock and points total took off like a Space X rocket heading for the International Space Station. Just a few weeks later, on Nov. 6, Barzal notched the first five-point game (all assists) of his career, helping the Isles beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-4.
Two months later, again at MSG, Barzal scored twice and assisted on three others for his second five-point game of the season, making him the first player to perform that feat before his 21st birthday.
To top it off, Barzal notched his third five-point night on Feb. 9th in a 7-6 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. He became the first player since Joe Malone, 100 years earlier, to notch five points in a game as a rookie.
Those three wonderful games allowed Barzal to tie Bryan Trottier for the most assists by an Islander rookie with 63, and notch 85 points; leading the team in scoring, passing John Tavares on the last day of the season.
Watching these efforts, I am sure that the Boston Bruins were wondering how their team would look if they took a flyer on Barzal with one of their three consecutive picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft before the Isles grabbed him with the 16th overall selection.
Watching this young 20-year old from Coquitlam, British Columbia, is nothing but pure joy. The first thing that jumps out at you is the confidence in his skating ability and knack to find the open man to get the puck to.
Watching Islanders hockey over the decades, there have been many men that were fantastic skaters—Bobby Bourne and Jason Blake are just two who come to mind—guys that were able to dangle the puck around opponents with relative ease.
Barzal seems to take his skating to another level; his movements at times are so effortless it almost makes defensemen look like they are just standing still as he breezes past. There are times where Barzal can hold the puck for 15-to-20 seconds, swerving left and right, up and down, lulling the opponent to sleep until he sees a teammate ready to pounce a shot on the goaltender.
Despite the scouting reports and teams gearing themselves up by double, triple and sometimes even quadruple-teaming Barzal, he still manages to get the puck or himself out of harm’s way.
These traits are often found in the top stars of the NHL, not necessarily in one so young and inexperienced. What a treat it is going to be to witness more of this youngster’s future.
Just like any rookie, there are some issues with his game. Even Wayne Gretzky had a flaw or two.
There are times that he looks for the perfect pass to set up a teammate rather than be a little selfish and make the play himself. Sometimes it’s better to take the simple shot rather than make the Top 10 Plays of the Week on ESPN.
Barzal will learn that. It’s just a part of the maturation process.
As with all young offensive talent, the effects of all that moving around with the puck trying to generate the offense will leave him susceptible of coughing up the puck, leaving him chasing after an odd-man rush the other way.
With the play of the Islanders this season—particularly in their own end of the ice—Barzal’s gaffes sometimes became glaring. With more maturity and experience, those issues will become fewer as time goes on.
Grading Mathew Barzal is the easiest grade to hand out of all the Islanders. He’s not only the odds-on favorite to take home the Calder Trophy this season as the top rookie, but if all things go to plan, he will be receiving more hardware in his future.
With two years remaining on the entry-level contract (his two games in 2016-17 do not count towards losing a year), the Islanders will savor the fact that they are saving money to use on other players while enjoying the fruits of this young talent.
He is a special player with so much left to show the hockey world. It reminds me of what I thought as a young teenager when Trottier and Mike Bossy were coming up as young men. The sky is the limit, and Islander fans are going to enjoy this young man for many years to come.
Final 2017-18 Grade for Mathew Barzal – A+
Stay tuned to Elite Sports NY for more Islander Report Cards.