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No Surprise: Islanders Barzal named finalist for the Calder Trophy

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No one saw this coming except everyone.

NHL: New York Islanders at Ottawa Senators
Nice work, kid.
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Islanders center Mathew Barzal was named a finalist today for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie this season, presumably the penultimate stop before collecting the actual prize in June at the league’s awards showcase.

Vancouver forward Brock Boeser and Arizona forward Clayton Keller are the other two finalists. Both had great seasons - Boeser scored 29 goals before sustaining a season-ending injury in a game against the Islanders and Keller had 23 goals and 65 points in a year that started like gangbusters before leveling off.

But the numbers Barzal put up in his first full season in the NHL were flatout ridiculous, and invoked the names of Hall of Famers, superstars and guys who played in the NHL before the forward pass was allowed.

He led all rookies with 85 points (20 more points than second place Keller) on 22 goals and 63 assists. But that’s just the tip of the statistical iceberg for the 20-year-old.

From the Islanders release:

The Coquitlam, BC native is one of five rookies in NHL history with at least 63 assists in a season; the only other active NHL player with at least 63 assists in his rookie season is Sidney Crosby. Barzal’s 63 assists matched Bryan Trottier’s Islanders rookie record.

Barzal joined Denis Potvin as the only rookies in Islanders history to lead the team in both assists and points. Barzal’s 85 points are the third most of any Islanders rookie behind Trottier (95 points in 1975-76) and Mike Bossy (91 points in 1977-78).

Barzal had three (3) games this season in which he had five points, a feat that hasn’t been equaled since 19-freaking-19.

Two would have been impressive. But three is just preposterous.

Barzal’s season has already been etched in the record books as one of the best ever, as his 63 assists ended tied for the third most by a rookie in NHL history behind only Joe Juneau and Peter Stastny’s 70.

For these reasons, Barzal appears to be the odds-on-favorite to take home the Calder, something even pessimistic Islanders fans (like this author) can believe in.

Barzal was drafted 16th overall in the 2015 entry draft thanks to the generous help of the Edmonton Oilers, who traded the pick to the Islanders for defenseman and eventual expansion draft fodder Griffin Reinhart. Let that sink in one more time.

(Didn’t hurt that the Bruins passed on Barzal with three straight picks, either. But they seemed to make out alright while the Oilers remain the Oilers.)

Off the ice, Barzal proved to be an intelligent and curious kid, but one certainly not lacking in confidence that he could be among the best players in the NHL. He was featured in a Hockey Night in Canada video on Sportsnet (an honor unheard of for an Islander) and took direction and criticism from coach Doug Weight without issue. He also lived with veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg this season, which made for some fun moments.

Of course, the flip side of this magnificent season was that the Islanders as a whole... kinda stunk. Barzal’s chemistry with linemate Jordan Eberle (25 goals, 34 assists) and Anthony Beauvillier (21 goals, also at 20-years-old) helped make the Islanders an offensive force, but they couldn’t overcome the team’s many, many, many, many defensive miscues throughout the season.

We can only hope that not only does he continue to dominate like he did this season, but that the team doesn’t squander his amazing talents like some other players we can think of.