This year’s NHL Awards Show was notable for how much of its hardware was up for grabs. The races for the Hart and Norris Trophies in particular had been debated for what feels like the entire season, and held some mystery going into Wednesday night’s spectacle in Las Vegas.
The Calder Trophy was not among those mysteries.
Islanders center Mathew Barzal was named the 2018 NHL Rookie of the Year, capping off one of the most spectacular first year campaigns in decades.
Calder Trophy voting breakdown (voted on by PHWA) pic.twitter.com/qERq84TfdA— Sean Leahy (@Sean_Leahy) June 21, 2018
Naturally, he was named to the 2018 All Rookie Team as well.
His acceptance speech was sincere and to the point.
Except for this. Whoops!
But’s all good.
A Giant among Kids
This was an especially strong year for rookies, making Barzal’s dominance even more special. Boeser had 29 goals in an injury-shortened season and Keller finished with 65 points after a torrid start to the season. Shoot, Kyle Connor (30 goals), Yanni Gourde (25g, 65p) and Charlie McAvoy (first pair defenseman for one of the league’s best teams) didn’t even make the finalist cut.
Sadly for them, Barzal’s 63 assists and 85 points are among the best ever recorded by an NHL rookie, placing him on lists with names like Wayne Gretzky, Bryan Trottier, Mario Lemieux, Denis Savard and Joe Malone.
Who the hell is Joe Malone? Oh, just the last player to have three five point games in his first season in the NHL. That was in 1919.
Barzal joins Joe Malone (1917-18) as the only NHL rookies ever to record three games of 5+ points. Just 4 others have even done it twice (Bryan Trottier + Peter, Anton & Marian Stastny) https://t.co/KaYUB8qWch— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 10, 2018
Barzal is tied for the second most assists of any rookie in NHL history alongside Trottier and Sidney Crosby with 63. They trail only Joe Juneau and Peter Stastny’s 70.
But beyond just numbers (which get even crazier than the box car stats), Barzal’s speed and otherworldly shiftiness gave Islanders fans thrills they haven’t seen in years. His puckhandling is in a class by itself, and he’s capable of controlling the thing longer than almost anyone else in the league. When he gets going on one of his “Barzal Offensive Zone Orbits” around the other team’s net, look out.
Slow Start then... BOOM
He becomes the first Islander to win the Calder since another slick skater - defenseman Bryan Berard - did in 1997. Potvin (1974), Trottier (1976) and Mike Bossy (1978) also took home the award in their first years. Recently, Michael Grabner (2011) and Trent Hunter (2004) were finalists.
Barzal was drafted 16th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, a round in which the Islanders had no actual picks. Former GM Garth Snow traded defenseman Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for two draft picks and used one on Barzal. After playing sparingly in the NHL, Reinhart was exposed by the Oilers in the 2017 expansion draft, and spent the majority of this season playing for the Vegas Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.
Barzal got into two games for the Islanders in 2016, but was returned to his junior team in Seattle. He spent exactly no time stewing about the demotion, and led the Thunderbirds to their first WHL title and a slot in the Memorial Cup.
After going pointless in his first six games this season, Barzal scored his first NHL goal against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 19th, and just didn’t stop racking up points until the Islanders final game of the season on April 9th in Detroit. He had two assists in that game.
Just the Beginning
Setting a bunch of records and winning a major award also has other perks. We saw Barzal spotlighted in national publications throughout the season, something very few Islanders have ever achieved.
Boy, that’s a lot to take in for one 21-year-old kid. And what’s he going to do for an encore? He’s already prepping for it.
“I don’t mind it (attention) now, but I’d prefer to stick to my business,” said the 21-year-old Barzal. “Just skate and train, and I don’t like to go out too much and I like to keep everything hockey based.
Sounds like good business advice.
Congrats, kid. And nice haircut.
PS: Let’s never speak of this again: