You never know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. And then replaced by something better.
Mat Barzal is such a breath of fresh air as the emerging New York Islanders’ franchise player. After the nine years Islanders fans had with the practically expressionless and monotone previous captain, this Kid Who Won the Calder deserves all the praise he gets day after day. Not only is he unanimously beloved by Islanders fans, he’s beloved by the entire NHL, too.
Just look at last weekend, when he was the belle of the All-Star ball.
The rookie made sure he soaked in each and every moment of his first All-Star appearance. From his selfies with the fans to his post-game hug with Holtby, it was clear Barzal loved every moment of the All-Star Weekend and understood the pride and honor that comes with being named an All-Star. Whenever he was on camera, aware of it or not, he was positively beaming. Barzal was candidly pictured with players from both Conferences and all teams, sharing jokes, leaning over the boards, talking behind their gloves, and simply smiling at everything. His amazement at Kendall Coyne Schofield’s skill in the Skills Competition was plain, and his joy of sharing ice time with huge names like Kane and Crosby seemed contagious.
“It’s obviously something I’m not going to forget,” he said in interviews that weekend. “It’s been really fun lately. Our Islander team is doing well, come here and do well and get a chance to play with Sid, Letang and Claude and some new faces. It’s been a blast.”
The other players also made it clear how much they enjoyed their time with Barzal, too. Why not? He had an impressive weekend. Not only did he place third in the Fastest Skater competition with a time of 13.780, he also scored six points in the two All-Star Games and attended the entire weekend with a winning, laughing, lovable attitude. After the games, his linemates Crosby and Letang echoed Barzal’s praise of them.
In an interview on NBC, Crosby said of him, “He makes it pretty easy. He lugs the puck so well, he skates so well, it was fun to be out there with him.” He also added that no one beats Barzal at three-on-three play.
Even Barzal’s idol Kane said, “He’s probably a better skater than I am… unbelievable on his edges. It’s pretty impressive how he can create time and space just from his footwork and obviously he has the hands to go with it. He seems like a really good kid.”
So, besides being an all-around great player on the ice who can both create and finish plays, Barzal’s an all-around great person off the ice, too. The rookie is not only excelling at hockey but also at the NHL’s popularity contest. Yet, it seems so far at least, he didn’t let the All-Star Weekend distract him from the end stretch of the season to begin on Friday night against the Lightning. Even in his interviews, he mentioned how well the Islanders have been playing and the confidence he gets from playing with this New York team.
As he told the New York Post, “You can have all those individual [awards], but at the end of the day, I don’t want to be a guy that goes to play 15 years and makes the playoffs three times, you know? I want to be in there consistently.”
As much as the Calder Trophy and the All-Star recognition mean to him, Barzal cares first about overall team success. He doesn’t aim to win the individual players awards at the end of the year, he aims to win the Stanley Cup with everyone else on the team.
So, a good person, a good player, and a team player? How refreshing to have a genuinely great, personable guy as the face of the Islanders.
Feature Image: New York Post/AP