Okay, look, the Islanders' season has not been what anyone here had hoped it would be. But Mathew Barzal's rookie season has been an unquestionable delight, one that will probably end with a Calder Trophy.
He's clearly caught the eye of the hockey world at large as well, and might be the best PR the team has going for it right now. On last night's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, Barzal sat down with Elliotte Friedman for a few minutes of talk about his dad Mike, being starstruck, playing with his captain and figure skating.
Barzal let slip some astonishing personal information, revealing for the world that John Tavares, who is possibly a cyborg assassin sent from the future through a time portal, is actually, "a pretty funny guy" off the ice.
While viewers can enjoy Barzal's superlative skills and incredible creativity, coaching a young player like that can be a challenge. Doug Weight's handling of the 20-year-old has rankled us at points this season, but there's a fine line between letting a player be himself and teaching him responsible hockey smarts that will help him become even better over time.
In a Newsday article by Neil Best about their relationship, Barzal and Weight talked about an incident that encapsulated that exact thing. In trying to toe drag around Connor McDavid in overtime, Barzal not only lost the puck, but sent the NHL's reigning scoring champ off on a breakaway, then held him up long enough to award him a penalty shot (that was ultimately stopped). Barzal did not see the ice for the rest of OT and the shootout which the Islanders ended up losing.
"It's not something I should be doing in overtime, especially in a big game," Barzal said. "[Weight] didn't have to say anything. I mean, I deserved to not play the rest of that overtime. That was a bad turnover and a lazy turnover.
"There's a difference between turning the puck over on a hard turnover, trying to make a good play, and just trying to be fancy."
Weight said his message was simple: "It's Connor and you're the last guy back, and there are times where you can protect that puck and you can still get by a guy without doing that fancy stuff, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you're right.' "
Although supreme confidence is one of his best traits, Weight says Barzal is also incredibly receptive to coaching and criticism, which is great to hear.
"He wants to do the right things and he wants to learn," the coach said on Saturday after the team practiced in Banff before busing here for Sunday's game against the Flames.
"So he's in there the next day and he's always the guy that first comes up to [assistant Scott Gomez] and then to me and says, ‘I screwed up. I don't know what I was thinking. I got excited.'
Weight also says his message to the players is that, "he's not going away" in the sense that he's not getting fired any time soon and so they might as well listen. For some of us that have grown frustrated watching the Islanders under the excitable but inexperienced coach this season, that is less than great to hear.
But Barzal is always appointment viewing and his evolution on the ice, within the organization and off the ice (as he adjusts to life on Long Island, as seen in the MSG Beginnings video below) will be fascinating to watch for years to come.