For the second straight season, Mat Barzal was selected to the All-Star Game following his tremendous first half this year. He was the lone New York Islander to be selected and will be playing for the Metropolitan Division. Brock Nelson will have the opportunity to be voted in by the fans for the final spot.
“It’s a nice feat during the year,” Barzal said. “I obviously couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches putting me in good spots. It’s nice when it happens, but we still have 10 or so games before the All-Star break and we’re in a tight race right now, so my focus is kind of on that.”NHL.com
For a team that is not loaded with offensive talent, Barzal has quickly started to put together his best season. Through 38 games, he has a team-high 16 goals and 33 points. Lately, Barzal has been playing well and has scored in three of the past seven games. Even with all the individual success he has shown, his linemate, Jordan Eberle, has yet to start finding his scoring touch after an early-season injury. Barzal has not assisted on any of the goals scored by Eberle this year, carrying the first line for New York.
The format of the All-Star Game will be 3-on-3 and will play right into Barzal’s skills. This season, he has excelled in overtime setting up both Devon Toews and Nelson for game-winners. Barzal’s stick-handling ability and puck control allow him to dictate any overtime he plays in. Barzal went an incredible 58 seconds with puck possession against the Vegas Golden Knights earlier this month before Ryan Pulock scored on the next shift to win the game. Barzal also has two shootout goals this season against the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins and will certainly be able to display his talent in the skills competition.
All-Star Game 2019
It is hard to argue that Barzal’s line last season with Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby in the All-Star Game in San Jose was anything other than the best trio on the ice. Despite Crosby winning the MVP, Barzal scored two goals and had three assists to lead the Metropolitan Division over the Central Division. His team was rewarded by splitting $1 million between them.
“The way he holds onto the puck, the way he skates, 3-on-3, I don’t know if there is anyone better when it comes to holding onto it,” said Crosby. “The way that he can just beat you 1-on-1, beat you with his speed, hold onto it. You watch him out there against the best, I don’t see anyone that really beats him in that category.”NBC Sports
Joining Barzal on the Metropolitan Division All-Star team will be Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, Kyle Palmieri, Artemi Panarin, Travis Konecny, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, and a replacement for the injured Joonas Korpisalo and Jake Guentzel as every team has the opportunity to let one player compete.
Left off the NHL All-Star ballot, Nelson will have the opportunity to be voted in by the fans for his first All-Star Game later this month. After signing a seven-year contract extension in the offseason, Nelson is having a career season helping the Islanders get off to their terrific start.
Nelson has been one of the leagues best in overtime. In less than half the season, Nelson has scored three overtime goals, including two in back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also had one earlier in the year against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nelson contributed an assist on Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime goal in December and has 15 goals and 31 points.
As a team, the Islanders have won six times in overtime and Nelson has been in on the scoring in four of those games. He also has a shootout goal against the Florida Panthers at the start of the Islanders 10-game winning streak and club-record 17-game point streak. Nelson has three games already this season of multi-goal games, as he had tallies in regulation in both games against the Penguins before his overtime goals and then two more against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Brock has been sort of under the radar and not a lot of people have talked about him,” Trotz said. “This is maybe a bit of a first step of getting to the next level is getting the recognition of what you do as a player and how consistent he has been.”
Competition for Final Spot
Other than Teuvo Teravainen and Mika Zibanejad, Nelson has more points than any of the other forwards up for voting. When picking an all-star, individual success should be a factor, but team success should be just as important. Like voting for an MVP, players on losing teams should not be rewarded for at the top of the standings. The Islanders currently sit tied in second place in the Metropolitan Division and Nelson has single-handedly earned New York three points with his overtime heroics.
Only the Washington Capitals have more points than the Islanders and with three defensemen already on the Metropolitan Division, it would make sense for another forward to make it. Plus, 3-on-3 is much more exciting with two forwards and one defenseman than the other way. For the Capitals, T.J. Oshie has fewer points and has not contributed to his team as much as Nelson.
Also, other candidates like Letang and Claude Giroux have played in a combined 11 All-Star Games. Considering every team gets a representative, it leaves out some of the younger players who don’t get as much attention. Also, some of the top players such as Alexander Ovechkin choose not even to attend. It is time the NHL starts rewarding guys who want to participate and the ones that have earned it.
This year, the reigning Stanley Cup champions in the Blues are hosting the event. The festivities will begin on Jan. 24-25 as the rest of the NHL gets a mandatory four-day break.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.