Who else could it be but Mathew Barzal?
Barzal had one of the best rookie seasons in recent years, tying records set by NHL legends and future hall of famers, and just about cruising to the Calder Trophy. With 22 goals and 85 points, Barzal was the Islanders’ leading scorer, beating John Tavares by a point. His partnership with Jordan Eberle led to fantastic seasons from both players, with Barzal helping Eberle reach his highest points total since the 2014-15 season.
Barzal was selected 16th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, when the Islanders traded Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers for that pick. The rookie center wowed the NHL with his skating ability, and found success with the “BOZO” (Barzal Offensive Zone Orbit), where he could skate around the zone, draw defensemen, and find an open man with pinpoint accuracy. His skating made him lethal all over the ice, and when Anthony Beauvillier was added to Barzal’s line, he too became an offensive threat.
The question going forward is whether Barzal will continue to grow his game and become one of the truly elite centers in the game, or if he’ll take a step back this season. If Tavares had re-signed with the Islanders, it would have sheltered Barzal a little more, avoiding the pressure of both living up to the expectations he’s now set and from having to take on the NHL’s toughest competition every game. It’s on his shoulders now, but he’s got all the tools to be in the same conversation as the young elite centers in the NHL such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Nathan MacKinnon.
The questions about Barzal’s potential will have to be answered by both Barzal himself and by the Islanders. Will the team under Lou Lamoriello make the same mistakes that Garth Snow did, getting just one playoff series victory out of the Tavares-led Islanders? There are a lot of talented players in the pipeline to surround Barzal with, but the key will be keeping the talented players that are already here, too. Now that the league knows how Barzal plays, and knows the kind of offensive threat he is, can he keep the element of surprise up? The Calder Trophy winner will have everyone watching for him, and unless there’s a trade, Nelson rebounds, or Kovar can pick up some of the offensive slack, much of the team’s offense will be reliant on Barzal. With his style of play and his confidence, he should be able to handle it all.
The obvious number 1. Don Cherry was the first to compare Barzal to Denis Savard. Someone I can't remember called Barzal a cross between Savard and Paul Coffey. What I see is a 20 year old kid who does things I've never seen at the NHL level, and he makes it look simple. His junior level game made a seamless transition to the NHL. He's also still for or five seasons away from his peak. The sky is the limit with Barzal.
Judging by how low he is on some league-wide 25U25 lists, the rest of the world has yet to discover how special he really is.
I mean, who else could it be? Easily the best player in the organization of any age, and if he plays anything like he did last season, he'll cement his place as a superstar in this league.
- #2 Ryan Pulock can be an elite defenseman
- #3 Oliver Wahlstrom boasts an elite shot
- #4 Anthony Beauvillier had a breakout second half
- #5 Noah Dobson has top-four potential
- #6 Josh Ho-Sang gets a fresh start
- #7 Devon Toews can make the jump
- #8 Kieffer Bellows goes pro
- #9 Where in the world is Bode Wilde?
- #10 Adam Pelech needs to find a role
- #11 Sebastian Aho made a strong impression
- #12 Linus Soderstrom could make his mark
- #13 Ilya Sorokin remains in Russia
- #14 Parker Wotherspoon needs to avoid a slow start
- #15 Mitchell Vande Sompel looks to build upon strong rookie season
- #16 David Quenneville is small but rounded
- #17 Ruslan Iskhakov brings skill, not size, to UConn
- #18 Athletic but inconsistent young goalie Jakub Skarek
- #19 Skill and size but speed questions for Otto Koivula
- #20 A make or break year for Michael Dal Colle
- #21 Questions about Anatoly Golyshev
- #22 New left wing Blade Jenkins
- #23 Switzerland’s Yannick Rathgeb
- #24 Young Finn Robin Salo
- #25 Solid defenseman Kyle Burroughs
- The Roster Cuts