Every hockey fan knows that John Tavares will not be suiting up for the New York Islanders next season, but instead will be lacing up the skates for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not every hockey fan knows that Tavares’ replacement is already on the Islanders roster preparing to carry the New York offense in 2018.
In 2015 with the 16th pick in the NHL draft the Islanders took Mathew Barzal from the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. Barzal was an efficient scorer for the Thunderbirds, and in four seasons in the WHL he had an astounding 278 points.
Barzal wasted no time transitioning his elite play to the NHL and in his rookie season recorded 85 points, which was good for the 16th best total in the entire NHL, and he finished 5th in assists with 63. Moving into 2018, it’s apparent that those numbers will only grow for the 21-year old center as long as he can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
Avoiding The Sophomore Slump
It is easy to say that the Islanders offense will take a significant step back in 2018 because of the loss of Tavares, but when you look at the numbers that may not be the case. Barzal played on the line opposite of John Tavares where Barzal scored 68 percent of his points in five on five without Tavares.
Going into 2018, Barzal now will have the option to either play with the same line he scored 85 points with or potentially move up to the top line that features Anders Lee who scored 40 goals last season. Given Barzal’s playmaking ability you can expect that if given a chance to play with Anders Lee the two will wreak havoc on opposing defenses in 2018.
What Barzal Does Well
Speed – Puck Skills – Strength – Accuracy
On this goal from January 13th against the Rangers, Barzal shows off his puck skills and speed through traffic and then his strength and accuracy to bury a backhand in the back of the net.
Scoring from that far out with a backhand is a play that only the top end players in the NHL can make and Barzal is doing it at just 21-years of age.
Vision – Playmaking Ability
On this assist from January 7th against the New Jersey Devils, Barzal displays his playmaking vision and playmaking ability. Right before the pass Barzal pulls his head and stick back as if he is getting ready to shoot and that freezes the goaltender just long enough for Barzal to make the cross-crease pass to Beauvillier who puts it home.
Choosing two plays is a small sample size for what was a whole season of work for Mat Barzal, but these are the types of plays he was making all last season and is the reason why he was able to have such a successful season with 85 points and the Calder Trophy.
Can He Carry The Work Now That Tavares Is Gone?
Absolutely. John Tavares is a great player, and he will continue to be great in Toronto, but now the Islanders are Mathew Barzal’s team, and there is no doubt that he is going to prove it in 2018.
New York still has a lot of work to do before they are a playoff team, but Barzal and the offense will not be one of them. Expect Barzal to play just as good as last season if not better. Mathew Barzal could easily be a 100 point scorer next season if he stays healthy. The Islanders have a lot to be excited about still in 2018.