The tri-state area teams have some of the best young players in the game, but New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal is in a league of his own.
Over the last few seasons, the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers have all taken their turns at being in the lower part of the standings. One thing that guarantees is the ability to draft a solid player. Matthew Barzal, Nico Hischier and Filip Chytil are the results of draft picks happening low, middle and high in the first round.
However, the best out of all of them is Barzal.
The Calder-trophy winner led the Islanders in points, collecting 85 in 82 games last season. Yes, he even had more than a healthy John Tavares. That was the first season since 2013-14 that a player not named Tavares led the team in points.
Barzal’s offense is the key part to his game that the other players simply cannot match up with. Every time the puck is on Barzal’s stick there’s a chance that it winds up in the back of the net. Similar to the Isles departed captain, Barzal makes players around him better. Hischier is the go-to guy in New Jersey, and Chytil has been on fire in Manhattan, but neither put up the same numbers Barzal does.
In addition to his offensive prowess, his edgework is second-to-none. The creativeness on his zone entries and ability to shake a defender are the main reasons he’s constantly alone in the offensive end.
He literally makes the defenders fall down like the second clip in this video.
Hischier’s skating is the closest to Barzal’s locally, shown off at 1:40 in this video to catch up to the puck and still deke on Petr Mrazek.
Hischier has that same “next-generation” speed, that NHL-ready speed straight from the draft Barzal does.
Another part of the British-Columbia native’s game is the release of his shot. Barzal has one of the best shots in the league, let alone in New York. Therefore, not only does he have all the abilities to be an every night playmaker for his teammates, he can be the finisher too.
A few moments stick out from Barzal’s goal-scoring career. The first one has to be his five-point, two-goal game against the Rangers. The memorable moment was the backhand that was lifted over Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder for his first goal. Another memory that comes to mind is the end-to-end goal against New Jersey. Barzal’s skating is shown off again here as he beat three defenders on his side of the ice.
Finally, his first career hat trick. In the game against the Winnipeg Jets, Barzal showed off all his abilities in the three goals. He had the awareness and hockey IQ to get to the front of the net with the first goal. On the second goal, he used his skating ability to create time, not so much space, and put it behind Steve Mason. The third and final goal was an example of getting in the right spot and the puck will find you. Andrew Ladd and Jordan Eberle were handling the puck behind the net when Barzal drove to the front creating another opportunity.
One of the only home-grown players in the area that can rival Barzal’s release is Chytil. The Rangers center is on fire as of late and most recently notched a goal against the Islanders on Wednesday night in a 5-0 victory.
The Rangers first round pick is now contributing in a top-six role with regular powerplay time. The result? Five goals in five games. He’s also doing the little things right, like playing on the defensive side of the puck and generating offense by passing the puck around with minimal mistakes. His goal against the Dallas Stars is just one look at his great release.
While it’s hard to beat, Barzal’s wrister still comes out on top. One of the goals that displayed his release was his overtime winner against now-Islanders goalie Robin Lehner. Giving Barzal all that time and space proved costly for the Sabres and Lehner paid the price five-hole.
However, what makes Barzal the best in the area is not just his offensive game. Barzal’s skating is one of the best in the league and it gives him the ability to get back on defense too. He breaks up plays, gets in the passing lanes and even blocks a shot occasionally. That’s more than Tavares did defensively, so Isles fans should be thankful for what Barzal can do in both zones. Is it likely to see him really develop his defensive game? No, he will never be a Selke candidate. However, it makes him more reliable knowing he can play defense when called upon.
Of all the young players in the Metropolitan Division, these three are some of the best for varying reasons. Barzal and Hischier have the same skating and playmaking abilities but ultimately Barzal has the edge. Whereas Chytil’s wrister is one of the best in New York, Barzal’s is simply lethal. The angles that Barzal can score from are impressive and his skill is truly that of a superstar.
Mathew Barzal is the best player in New York.