Fair warning to the rest of the NHL, Mat Barzal has got some serious wheels. We saw it in the preseason against the Devils, and Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad got front row seats to the Matt Barzal show at the Garden last Thursday. After a pedestrian stint with the Islanders before getting sent back down to help his junior team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, win the WHL title, Barzal has lived up to the hype this season. There is a strong argument that Barzal has been the Islanders’ most consistent forward thus far. Although he only has three points in eight games, he seems to always be active in the offensive zone, moving the puck around and creating scoring chances. Barzal looks set to lead a solid crop of youngsters including Josh Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock, and Anthony Beauvillier for the next few seasons.
Snow’s track record of doing business with Peter Chiarelli is pretty good. Before the 2014-15 season, he acquired defensive mainstay Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins, Chiarelli’s team at the time, for two 2nd round picks and a conditional 3rd rounder. Just this summer we acquired Jordan Eberle from Chiarelli’s current team, the Edmonton Oilers, for struggling forward Ryan Strome. The crown jewel of Chiarelli trades has to be turning bust prospect Griffin Reinhart into Matt Barzal. He’s only played a handful of games, but it’s hard not to get excited about what he brings to the table despite being so young and inexperienced at the NHL level. If he continues to improve, the Islanders will boast a formidable one-two punch at the center position between him and superstar captain John Tavares. It is, however, John Tavares’ current situation that makes Barzal so critical to both the present, and future, of Islanders hockey.
Even if they won’t admit it, every Islanders fan is nervous about the idea of John Tavares leaving for nothing in free agency. Even if we trade him to one of the teams rumored to be interested like Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, or Tampa, we may get a return way below market value for a player of his caliber. What could help cushion the loss would be Mat Barzal continuing to play like he has or even surpassing that level. Early returns look very promising and it seems like we have a stud on our hands who will play a big role in the future of this team, with or without John Tavares.