I almost broke the Barclays Center glass.
Sitting in the first row in section 206, gazing at the still figure lying on the Barclays Center ice, profanities poured out of my mouth and my feet stomped all over the concrete in front of me.
I was angry. Angry at the coach for having players block shots. Angry at the hockey gods for taking the one good player that was worth watching this season and potentially destroying him. Angry at the Islanders for everything that they’ve done this offseason.
All my rage came out in that one moment, but when the third period started I saw something that extinguished my anger. Anthony Beauvillier, a phoenix rising from the ashes of injury, kicking ass and making plays like nothing had happened.
I had been a fan of Anthony Beauvillier since he was drafted—how can you not be a fan of someone who led the QMJHL in shots his draft year, and then shots and goals the next—but I assumed he’d be returned there at the start of this season.
He impressed when the preseason started, sure, but so did Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, and Joshua Ho-Sang, and we all knew those last two weren’t making the opening night roster. But lo and behold, Beauvillier made the team. He played in his first game. And he impressed immediately.
In the last few weeks, every team’s rookie seems to take the stage with a highlight-reel goal or pass, but it wasn’t big things with Beauvillier. It was the little things. The Tavares-like skating move he pulled off in the offensive zone to keep the puck in against the Sharks. The way he aggressively forechecked and stole the puck from an Arizona Coyote. The crispness of his passing against the Ducks.
For a kid whose biggest attribute was his shot, his shooting didn’t stand out much…unless he got a clear lane. Then he whizzed a shot at the goalie, the puck hitting with such a loud “thwack” that it caused everyone in the arena to look around and say “wow.”
His hockey IQ is excellent, as evidenced by the assist against the Minnesota Wild on Alan Quine’s goal. He knew the exact time to make a quick pass, the exact way to space himself out, and the exact method to screen the goalie to give Quine as good a shot as possible.
He also racks up points. It was 5 points in 6 games at the time his anxiety-striking shot block against the Canadiens.
Now, some of that won’t continue—of the four assists, two of them are secondary assists, normally statistically noise. But watching the video of those goals, one of those secondary assists was him feathering a pass to Boychuk for an entry which led to a goal. That’s the kind of secondary assist a strong NHL player earns.
Before the game against the Canadiens, he only had 4 shots, less than one a game. But that was while averaging just 9:00 of ice time, none on the power play, where forwards traditionally put up a fair amount of their points.
Give him more ice time, and he should thrive. He played incredibly well with Alan Quine and Ryan Strome when they played Arizona. When he was placed with Brock Nelson and Anders Lee on Wednesday against Montreal, they played strongly as well.
The eye test suggests he makes everyone around him better, and his +7 corsi from Wednesday does not deceive. If he was put on the first line…
And that’s what’s happened at the end of the Canadiens game. After coming back from a slapshot to the thigh that would have left me crying for weeks, Beauvillier was placed on the first line with Tavares.
And a funny thing happened: they created quite a few scoring chances. Beauvillier almost had a goal, but happened to ring it off the post. He had 2 shots, which isn’t bad for a 19-year old rookie without power-play time. Beauvillier’s first goal was with Tavares as well.
People have been searching for a wing for JT for years. Maybe the answer has arrived via the 2015 draft. I called Beauvillier a phoenix rising from the ashes before. In the midst of a tumultuous offseason and a poor start, the team needs a flame to guide them, to give them something to aspire to.
Mirroring the locker room talk of his teammates, Beauvillier recently said “It’s not the points, [I have to] just do the job, keep working hard.”
But he shouldn’t aspire tobe like the other Islanders. The other Islanders should aspire to be like him.