Barzal Proving To Be Calder Candidate
It’s been a long time coming, but Mathew Barzal’s coming out party has been a surprise to no one. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some bumps & bruises along the way. Just a year ago Barzal found his way back in the WHL after a very short stint with the Islanders.
Barzal never looked comfortable last year, & after back to back penalties for playing the puck while still in the penalty box in just his second NHL game, he found his way on a flight back to Seattle. Barzal tore up the WHL with 79 points in 41 games, winning a championship with the Thunderbirds.
With another junior season under his belt, Mat Barzal came to Islanders camp this year with a renewed sense of confidence. The dynamic playmaker found himself in a Top 6 role immediately, filling the void of Frans Nielsen as the Isles’ second line center.
This move has proven to be the right one, with him & Jordan Eberle making a special connection on the second line. Pair them with Andrew Ladd, & the Islanders now have two legitimate lines & no longer have to rely on John Tavares & Anders Lee for all of their offense.
With five points in his last five games, & 18 points in 19 games, Barzal has not only raised the game of the Islanders, but has shot himself into the Calder Trophy race for Rookie of the Year alongside Arizona’s Clayton Keller. He & Keller are tied in points, with Barzal leading all rookies with 14 assists. He’s the ultimate pass-first playmaker the Islanders need, & a perfect compliment to Eberle & his nasty wrist shot.
However, Barzal still needs to improve in some areas. He tries to do too much sometimes a la Josh Ho-Sang, & needs to cycle the puck more instead of trying to do everything on his own. His defense has been pretty solid for a rookie, but needs to be a stronger forechecker. That all comes with time, & in a few years I believe he’ll be an All Star.
I remember when the Islanders traded Griffin Reinhart for the 16th and 32nd picks back in 2015. Those picks turned into Mat Barzal & Anthony Beauvillier. When I went to watch the two of them at the prospects game, I was in awe of just how well Barzal handled the puck at such a young age. He was skating circles around some more seasoned prospects at the ripe age of 18. In hindsight, that trade was a steal, with Reinhart floundering in the AHL & Beau & Barzal both contributing for the big club.
Even if he doesn’t win the Calder this year, Islanders fans have to be excited about the future for Mat Barzal. He is a dynamic player with lots of room to grow, & with the right tools he can be the Butch Goring of this new generation of Islanders. The future is bright for this young kid.