Mathew Barzal: NHL Draft War Room Profile

by Eldon MacDonald (edited by @ChrisRalphTHW)

Mathew Barzal: Ranked #6 – March 2015 Rankings

Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal: one of the top average-sized forwards available for the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo: Christopher Mast)
  • Hashtag: #MrSkillWithGritOnIt
  • Team: #13, Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL
  • Position: Centre
  • Shoots: Right
  • Height: 6’0
  • Weight: 177 lb.
  • Born: Coquitlam, BC, 26-May-97
  • Twitter: @Barzal_97



Other Rankings

  • 5 – THN – Ryan Kennedy – Top 30, Jan-15
  • 7 – ISS – Top 30, Mar-15
  • 7 – THW – Christopher Ralph, Top 30, Mid, Feb-15
  • 9 – SN – Damien Cox, Feb-15 – Top 30
  • 10 – McKeens – Top 30, Mar-15
  • 10 – NHL Combined – Top 305, Mid, Jan-15
  • 10 – TSN – Bob McKenzie’s Poll of NHL Scouts – Top 60 – Mid, Jan-15
  • 11 – FC – Top 30, Mar-15
  • 17 – HP – Top 60, Feb-15
  • 18 – TSN – Craig Button – Top 100, Mar-15

THW’s Draft War Room – Mathew (Matt) Barzal

Mr Skill with Grit On It

Eldon MacDonald, THW:  A few words on Mathew Barzal:

Mr. Skill with Grit On It: The reason that I am sure that Mathew Barzal will find success in the NHL is his willingness to transform a game that he is comfortable with, the skill game of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the cerebral game of Sam Reinhart, to a game has shown great success in the NHL from the likes of Claude Giroux, the gritty physical game accompanied by big time skills.

Five Reasons Why Mathew Barzal Will Be the First Player Chosen from the WHL in the 2015 NHL Draft:

  • Student of the Game: You could rename him Mr. Video Review as Mathew spends countless hours looking at the nuances to his game and seeking ways to make it better. He has a need to know and a need to grow.
  • Willingness to Get Better: Sidney Crosby did not always have a top-notch shot, he worked on it; Sidney Crosby was not always good in the face-off circle; he worked on it. Like Sidney Crosby, Mathew has shown the willingness to get better and to do the things necessary to help himself improve.
  • Speed: He’s got it, the speed you need from a star player – top end, the gears, the after-burner, the change in speeds and directions, the edges.
  • Difference Maker: To be a top player, you need to want to be a difference maker, you need to have the ability to make that want come true. Mathew has it, just watch a few of his third period performances and see if you don’t agree.
  • Willingness to Do the Dirty: Mathew has shown an increasing willingness to play in the dirty areas, to finish his checks, to be hard to play against, to play hard in all areas of the ice, to excel at puck protection. He is not completely there yet but well on the way.


  • Vision – Has that Sam Reinhart type of vision where he can slow the play down in his head and speed it up on the ice when he reads the play. Elite vision.
  • Hockey IQ – Has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and has the instinct to use that knowledge to change the play to what is likely to work best.
  • Skating – Simply, he can do it all and, yes, he is an elite skater, at the top or close to it for the 2015 draft class.
  • Passing – Passing is his bread and butter; his passing skills make the whole team better.
  • Stickhandling – Combine his stickhandling with soft hands and elite vision and you can start to see why Mathew Barzal has an excellent chance of becoming something special in the NHL.


Plays the 200 foot game, possesses good defensive hockey sense, sees the plays developing and is very adept at creating turnovers. Like most junior players, he needs to work on his consistency of effort in the defensive part of his game.

Awards and Achievements

  • 2011-12: Bantam – First Player Selected in WHL Bantam Draft (107 points in 35 games for Burnaby Winter Club Bantam 1A team)
  • 2012-13: Minor Midget – BCMMHL record for most assists in a season with Vancouver NE Chiefs – 74 assists along with 39 goals in 35 games
  • 2012-13: U16 Western Canada Challenge Cup – Team British Columbia – Tournament all-star
  • 2013-14: WHL – Seattle Thunderbirds – Third most points (54 in 59 games) for a 16 year old in the team’s existence. Number one was Lindsay Vallis in 87-88 with 76 points in 68 games. Number two was Patrick Marleau in 95-96 with 74 points in 72 games.
  • 2013-14: World U18 Tournament – Bronze medal with Team Canada
  • 2014-15: Ivan Hlinka Hockey Tournament – Gold medal with Team Canada

Improvements to make: The first improvement that Mathew needs to make is obvious. As a modest sized player, he needs to get bigger and stronger to be successful at the NHL level. The second improvement to make is to complete the transition from the Ryan-Nugent Hopkins or Sam Reinhart type of player to the Claude Giroux type player. Already, we are seeing a more physical type game from Mathew and as his coach, Steve Konowalchuk, said recently in the Seattle Times, it is starting to reap dividends, “He’s a good player, and this is the highest level he’s been offensively since he’s been here. He’s competing hard and playing a 200-foot game. The more checks you finish, the more offensive chances you get.” The third item for improvement would be to increase the quantity of his shots. Currently, Mathew is more a pass-first type of guy and would benefit from using a more varied repertoire from his arsenal of tricks. It’s not that his shot isn’t good, it is just that he could use it more.

NHL Projection: Mathew has a very high upside, especially if he completes the transition to a more gritty style of game. If he were to do that, I would see him as a legitimate number one centre on a good club as he already possesses the hockey IQ, the vision, the skating and the passing associated with a player of that stature. Even if he does not completely make the transition to a gritty forward, I still see him as a number two centre that is good enough to make the team that drafted him over the moon.

Draft placement: At the beginning of the season, most had Mathew in the top 10 or even the top 5 (like me at 4). Then, Mathew had a slow start to the season followed by a major injury. He fell into the teens on most rankings (12 for me). However, since Mathew has returned from injury he has got his game back and is again looking like the top 10 player than most of us expected of him. Currently, most rankings have him in the 9 to 11 range while a few brave souls have him in the 5 to 7 range (me included at 6). I have opted for the high ranking because I believe that Mathew has a very high upside and he is making the changes to his game that will allow him to achieve that immense upside.

Editor’s Note (Chris):

I like to call Barzal the cerebral catalyst for his speed, creativity and playmaking ability.


  • Quote 1: – Steve Konowalchuk, Head Coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds, “It’s pretty impressive the amount of offence he generates. He’s just a smart player who makes good plays and good decisions with the puck. There are a lot of guys who have the talent to play in the NHL, but to do that you have to play a complete hockey game, be a good defensive hockey player and win battles to get the puck. He’s improved and is more consistent in all of those areas.”
  • Quote 2: – Mike G. Morreale, Staff Writer, “A fantastic east/west skater with the capability of creating time and space for linemates; he’s the top center on a team that has struggled this season but possesses great vision, puck skills and is the ultimate playmaker. He’s at his best when controlling the puck and seeking out options.”
  • Quote 3: – Craig Button, TSN Director of Scouting and a former NHL GM, “Difference maker may sum up Mathew. He not only wants to be one, he is one. Always in the ‘guts’ of the action and he has the puck so much during the course of a game. Smart and really understands what is unfolding and is both quick to take advantage yet patient to let it unfold. Exudes confidence and with a very good skill set, that confidence leads to productivity, both for him and the team.”
  • Quote 4: – John Williams of NHL Central Scouting, “He creates chances every shift he’s out there. I think he’ll be more of a playmaker. He’s a good possession guy and patient, creates time and space with his feet to give himself that extra half-second to find that open guy. He’s an every-situational guy.”
  • Quote 5: – Adam Williams, “Barzal wasn’t the first talented junior player I’ve interviewed and he won’t be the last—but there was something different about him. He was a really nice kid.”



  • Profile 1: Vancouver Province – Steve Ewen – 28-Feb-15
  • Profile 2: – Brendan Ross – 15-Feb-15
  • Profile 3: Sportsnet – Gare Joyce – 17-Nov-14