New York Islanders rookie center Mathew Barzal continues to amaze us.
When I use the word “us,” I’m not talking about the New York media or Islanders fans. I’m talking about the NHL community — from players to fans, to coaches, to management — from here to Vancouver.
The dynamic 20-year-old Calder Trophy candidate (the NHL’s award for Rookie of the Year), kept up his ridiculous play on Monday night in the Islanders’ 5-4 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens as he tallied three points (1 G, 2 A) to keep up a torrid pace that has seen him record 10 points in his last nine periods of play.
Saturday afternoon against the New York Rangers was Barzal’s statement game as he put up two goals and three assists for five points, the second such outing of his career that put him in some pretty elite company:
The kid’s alright. ? pic.twitter.com/t15dpKnUfm
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 15, 2018
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault could not provide an answer for the speedy forward, who simply cut his way through the Rangers defense on the way to a 7-2 Islanders win at Madison Square Garden.
“Barzal’s line just dominated…the whole game,” Vigneault said on Saturday. “I had three of my top players there and they were dominated the whole game.”
The praise kept rolling in for Barzal on Monday night after his effort against the Canadiens.
“He’s an incredible player,” said Canadiens forward Paul Byron. “It’s unbelievable to see a 20-year-old or 21-year-old skate the way he does with the puck and handle it probably as close as I’ve seen to [Edmonton Oilers star and reigning NHL MVP] Connor McDavid in terms of skill and speed. Incredible talent to watch and play against.”
High praise from one of the quickest skaters in the league.
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty was also quick to give the Islanders youngster a ton of credit.
He’s by far the best skater in the league,” Pacioretty said. “It’s no question. A lot of guys judge speed goal-line to blue line or whatever, a straight line. But he’s crossing over the entire game, winding up, building up speed. Every time we lose the puck in the o-zone, you turn around for a second and I can just see his hair flapping in the wind in front of me and I had to get on my horse and get back… That’s the toughest matchup that I’ve had this year.”
Barzal has even caught the eye of one of hockey’s most colorful analysts, Sportsnet’s Don Cherry.
“He just popped out of nowhere,” Cherry said. “This guy’s got the magic hands, I’ll tell you that.”
New York’s newest hockey jewel is averaging over a point a game as he has 16 goals and 31 assists (47 points) in his first 45 games. That’s seven points better than the NHL’s next-leading rookie scorer, Vancouver Canucks right winger Brock Boeser.