Whenever a player has a great rookie season, it is always hard to expect that the player to have the same kind of season the following year.
Most of these players experience a sophomore slump before getting back to being the player they were in their rookie year. It’s not a bad thing or anything like that as it is now something that is commonly expected.
Apparently, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal did not get the memo. In fact, he is on the same pace as last season when he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.
What Barzal, 21, did for the Islanders last season was absolutely remarkable. He was arguably better than their former franchise player, John Tavares, and he showed the organization he was worth being selected as the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Here is what Barzal accomplished last year in his first year in the NHL:
– He was the first Islander to score over 60 points in 40 years when Mike Bossy (91 points) and Brian Trottier (95 points) accomplished the feat.
– He was the first rookie to have three five-point games in a season before his 21st birthday.
– He finished the season 13th in points with 85.
– He finished the season fifth in assists with 63 of them.
– He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
In looking at all of that, it would be easy to see how difficult it would be for Barzal to top that. To play that well, to record that many points, and to now try and do it without Tavares seemed like an impossibility going into this season.
Don’t look now, but, Barzal is having a more than solid second season in the NHL. For him, it starts with producing.
Barzal currently leads the team in the following categories: points (41), assists (28), and power play points (16). Based on what he accomplished last year, this is nothing new for Barzal.
He is closing in on a point-per-game pace as he now has 41 points in 42 games after having 85 points in 82 games last season. As such, he is basically staying right on track production-wise to what he did last year.
Secondly, Barzal is once again showing that when it comes to playing in big games, especially against the team’s biggest rival in the New York Rangers, he is a clutch player. After recording three points (one goal and two assists) in his tea’s 4-3 win over the Blueshirts on January 10, Barzal now has 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in seven games against their hated rival.
He does not shy away in these games against the Rangers, most of which are very physical and tough to create room in. Barzal thrives against them by finding openings, jumping into the scoring areas, and being extremely smart with the puck.
Lastly, Barzal is showing that he is just a good player in general. He produces, he’s fast, he has a great shot, he battles for pucks, he comes through in the clutch.
What’s important for Barzal is that he keeps up his fine play. His team is in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and is just six points behind the Washington Capitals for first in the Metropolitan Division.
Based on how he played last season and is now playing this year, this should not be a problem for Barzal.
*Photo: The Score