The New York Islanders are very fortunate to have a superman on their roster. John Tavares is everything the Islanders could have wished for since they drafted him first overall in 2009. There is another player on the horizon for the Islanders where expectations are soaring. Mathew Barzal is knocking on the Islanders door.
Barzal was one of the top prospects heading into the 2015 Draft. Many NHL insiders thought there was a strong possibility that Barzal would be one of the top ten picks. What was going against the British Columbia-native was how many other top prospects were in his draft class and he was coming off of a knee injury.
The last landing spot anyone would have predicted for Barzal was the Islanders. New York did not have a first-round pick when the draft began. The Buffalo Sabres obtained the Islanders’ first round pick (21st overall) with the Thomas Vanek trade.
As the draft proceeded, pick after pick, in the first half of round one, Barzal was still waiting for his name to be called. Surely when the Boston Bruins were on the board at pick 12, and having three of the next four picks, the odds were good Barzal would wind up in Beantown. But when Boston did not select Barzal with the last of their three first-round picks at number 15, Garth Snow and the Islanders’ front office did not hesitate. New York traded Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers for the 16th & 33rd overall picks. The Islanders quickly went to the podium and announced the selection of Barzal.
No one in the Islanders organization or in the hockey universe thought Barzal could make New York’s opening night roster after his first training camp last September. In fact, the talk of the 2015 Islanders training camp was about whether or not top prospect Michael Dal Colle (fifth overall in 2014 draft) was going to make the team.
However, it was Barzal and not Dal Colle who was pushing for an opening night roster spot. Dal Colle was sent back to juniors early on, while Barzal stayed with New York to the very end of camp. The Islanders’ depth was the main reason Barzal was sent back to the Seattle Thunderbirds when camp was done, but it was clear that Barzal’s time with the Islanders would be coming soon.
With the Islanders roughly three weeks away from the opening of training camp, there’s no doubt one of the teams big story-lines will be Barzal. Tavares and a couple of other Islanders will miss the beginning of camp due to the World Cup and this will give Barzal extra looks, with the captain playing at the WC tournament.
The Islanders added Andrew Ladd this off-season but lost both Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in free agency. The opportunity is there for Barzal to make the opening night roster for the 2016-17 season.
There are so many positive attributes regarding Barzal’s play. The 6’0 center has great skill, hands and vision. He creates time and space, is a strong skater and most of all, he makes his teammates better. In a recent interview that both myself and my co-host Mark Warner did on the Vegas Hockey Podcast with general manager George McPhee (new GM of Vegas franchise), there was a lot of praise for Mr. Barzal. McPhee who spent the last two years in the Islanders’ front office believes Barzal is ready to start his NHL career.
Exciting times are ahead for the Islanders, as Barzal and Tavares will give New York a dynamic duo.