Mathew Barzal Is a Revelation for the New York Islanders
Ever since John Tavares was drafted in 2009, the New York Islanders have been looking for a consistent group of skilled forwards to put around him. From Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau to the more recent departure of Kyle Okposo, finding those supporting cast members has been easier said than done.
This season, though, things have looked a bit more steady in the top-six. Josh Bailey has been producing at career-high levels alongside Tavares. Anders Lee has developed into a consistent power forward rounding out the top line. The second line has also fallen into place, with Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd, and Mathew Barzal. It’s the 20-year-old rookie that has been a revelation this season, with 24 points through 24 games thus far.
It’s not completely out of the blue, however, since Barzal has a history of production. In his four seasons playing for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, the center never scored below 50 points in a season. His lowest mark was 54 in 59 games as a rookie and his most productive year in major junior was his last, in which he scored 79 points in 41 games.
What has been surprising, though, is just how quickly Barzal has taken to the NHL. Beyond point production, his line has been the Islanders best unit in terms of possession this season, with each of the members posting a five-on-five Corsi For above 55%, according to Corsica -- Barzal has the worst corsi of the trio with 55.69%. Their relative Corsi For percentage is also comfortably ahead of the rest of the team, with Barzal’s 7.29% nearly 4.5% ahead of his closest teammate.
The rookie is also leading Isles in individual expected goals during five-on-five play with 4.18. This mostly stems from the positions that Barzal gets to on the ice. According to Hockeyviz, his largest cluster of shots are coming from about 10 feet in front of the net. Not only is it impressive that he is working himself into those positions as a rookie, but that ability to find space in the slot is a repeatable, individual skill that should translate throughout his career.
His strength this season, however, has been his passing. Not only have 17 of his 23 points come from assists, including one 5-assist game earlier in November, but his most common linemates all experience a boost in shot rate when skating with Barzal.
The center has also been skating on the first power play unit, which has unsurprisingly been helping his production. The Islanders run a one-three-one power play in possession, with Nick Leddy at the blue line, Barzal, Tavares, and Bailey horizontally across the ice at the halfboards, and Lee in front of the net. While the rookie doesn’t take too many shots during the man advantage, his speed and poise on the puck have 6 power play assists through the first two months of the season.
Barzal’s first two months of the season have been a pleasant surprise for both Islanders fans and daily fantasy players. Even the most skilled players can have issues adjusting to the NHL, but he’s taken the transition in stride.
Not only has he found a stable role on the second line and first power play unit, but his numbers seem generally stable. His even strength shooting percentage is 9.09% and most of his points are primary assists, so he’s not racking up cheap secondary helpers from his own defensive zone. Also, as previously mentioned, he’s consistently getting into dangerous areas of the ice. He'll be someone to keep an eye on going forward...unless your team is going up against the Islanders, of course.