The New York Islanders selected Mathew Barzal with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. The center for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL could be a steal, as he missed a third of his draft year with a fluke knee injury (horsing around in the locker room) but put up good numbers for Seattle and Canada (U18) when he returned to health.
In Seattle, it was the Barzal show. He was the primary, and secondary scoring, finishing one point shy of 2015 draft-eligible teammate Ryan Gropp for the team's scoring lead in 23 less games.
Down the stretch, Barzal was among the WHL's best forwards and may have even matched his counterparts in the OHL. After returning from the knee injury, Barzal was held scoreless in his first four games.
On January 30, in Prince George, that changed and a 4-assist night propelled him into a mid-season form that never seemed to slow down, even as the playoffs - and then the U18s - rolled around.
If you're surprised to learn of this pick, you're not alone: The Isles didn't have a first nor second-round pick in this draft until moments before the 16th selection was made. The Isles traded 2012 pick Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers, for the 16th and 33rd overall picks.
They pulled the trigger on the trade right after the Boston Bruins finished their run of three consecutive picks at 13, 14 and 15. That would be a big hint that Barzal was their man, and they wanted to make sue he was still on the board before making this trade. [Update: Indeed, Newsday's Arthur Staple reports that the Isles were only doing the deal if Barzal was still there.]
More from PPP on Barzal's attributes:
After Seattle's first round exit, Barzal's best hockey was still to come, dominating at the U18s as Canada's leading scorer with 12 points in seven games, good for third in tournament scoring behind likely 2015 first rounder Jeremy Bracco and likely 2016 first overall selection Auston Matthews.
Barzal, a pass-first centre, was effective on every shift, and controlled the tournament's pace throughout, on route to a bronze medal.
His best asset, his brain, allows him to find his teammates where others wouldn't, anticipate plays on the defensive side of the puck to create chances for himself offensively, and out-think defenders while handling the puck off the rush, or in the offensive zone.
He's adept at handling, and distributing the puck, and while he doesn't have the size of a Dylan Strome, he's thicker and stronger than a Mitch Marner.
Canucks Army has samples from a variety of sources and adds:
The funny thing about Barzal's season is that as good as it was, it could have been so much better. Barzal led all WHL draft eligible forwards in ES points per game, total points per game, age-adjusted points per game, and contributed to nearly 43% of Seattle's offense in games he participated in.
Barzal was easily and clearly Seattle's offensive leader up front, and if not for 19-year old Anaheim Ducks 1st round pick Shea Theodore, would've been Seattle's best all-around player too.
Smart, Two-Way Threat
Here's more, from Stanley Cup of Chowder:
STYLE OF PLAY: Barzal is a creative centre who loves to have the puck on his stick - which is lucky, because the Seattle Thunderbirds love him to have it, too. This is a video covering every Barzal shift of an average Thunderbirds game (in this case, a win v the Spokane Chiefs) - one in which Barzal scores once and assists twice in a 5-3 Thunderbirds win:
You'll notice that his name gets mentioned a lot, both offensively and defensively. That's because the 17-year-old may not be the biggest at 6' and around 185lbs, but he is always to be found around where the puck is, particularly in the offensive zone. His instincts and speed mean he's often used on the penalty kill for the Thunderbirds, too, and his stickwork and speed means that he's an effective penalty-killer with the capacity to force breakaways and even shorthanded goals, as seen by this nice finish, again against Spokane:
Finally, a bit from SCOC on how scouts see him:
Scouts say that Barzal is one of the best two-way centers in the draft - he's fast, fluid and has a work-rate few can match, though this season has seen him slowed by injuries after a very impressive rookie year in the WHL. Scouts are already praising his two-way game and playmaking ability, and also pointing out that he has a shot that he maybe needs to use a little more, with one saying "he'd score a lot more goals if he were a little more selfish."
It looks like Griffin Reinhart was at best a surplus asset for the Isles, and possibly one who wasn't going to work out beyond a third-pair "shutdown" type. It's always a risk selling early on a defenseman, but the flip-side is they sold early enough, and appear to have gotten a promising prospect in return.
Isles Not Done Yet
The Reinhart deal wasn't their only trade into the first round, either. Later they packaged the second pick acquired from the Oilers, the 33rd overall, with their own 72nd overall pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for the 28th overall pick. They selected Anthony Beauvillier of the QMJHL's Shawinigan.