It’s a sure thing that Mathew Barzal — the Islanders freshman — will be unanimously named the Calder Trophy winner. Barzal’s season ranks among the greatest in the history of the game and the history of the Islanders franchise for a first-year player. The 20-year old will become the first Isles rookie to win the award since Bryan Berard in 1997-98 and his numbers resemble the starts to the careers of Isles legends like Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. Now, there were a host of games this season that Barzal dazzled.
But there were ten moments in particular that put the amazing rookie over the top. Our Rob Taub reveals them.
10. Memorable Debut At The Garden
Barzal immediately introduced himself to the Rangers and their fans when he put on a show in his first taste of the rivalry back on October 19, 2017. All night long, the second-line center ran circles around the Blueshirts forwards and defense. Barzal would score his first NHL goal on a beautiful move that beat Henrik Lundqvist. That night everyone got a glimpse of what was to come from Barzal the rest of the season and the wizardry he held in his arsenal.
9. SENSational Effort
By the time the Isles were in Ottawa towards the end of November, Barzal was already springing upwards and becoming a force on a nightly basis. He put on a wonderful display of skill late in the third period of the Islanders 2-1 win in Kanata on the second half of a back-to-back. The rookie sensation wheeled and dealed his way around the Sens zone before stopping and starting again, eventually finding an open Nick Leddy who passed to Jordan Eberle in the slot, who roofed a backhand shot past Craig Anderson to give New York a 2-0 lead. That display was just one of the many Barzal would do over the rest of the season.
8. Sabre The Win
Barzal, on many occasions, saved the Isles bacon throughout the season. One was against a porous Buffalo Sabres team in late December. He was pointless for the game until overtime commenced. In the extra session, Barzal zoomed his way all around the ice, until a minute in, he revved up just before the center dot. When he entered the Buffalo zone, the seas parted and Barzal sniped a shot past Robin Lehner to win the game for the Islanders in comeback fashion. Barzal’s rush became a fixture in every game the team played from mid-October on and they were all mesmerizing.
7. Ain’t Habbin It
The 20-year old made it pretty apparent he likes to play in Montreal. In the team’s first trip to Quebec, Barzal notched three points and helped the team survive in a 5-4 OT win. But it was the next time against the Habs, that Barzal really shined despite the Isles falling 3-1. His start before the Montreal blueline, his speedy move that posterized d-man Noah Juulsen and his backhand finish past Antti Niemi was simply magnificent. The goal would be the only tally of the night for the Islanders but was one of the best all season from the rookie phenom.
6. No Fly Zone
As the Isles finished up the last few games of the year, it was Barzal who never seemed to stop going. In the second to last home game of the year, Barzal recorded another three points and helped the Isles spoil the Flyers chances at securing a playoff birth that night. His wicked wrister past Petr Mrazek and his sweet backhander late in the third period as the deciding goal were just another example of the undeniable skill Barzal possesses and his underrated shot.
5. Hurricane Mathew Hits
As the Isles surged in the month of November, it was Barzal who was front and center. One of the games (the other will get to soon) at home against a game Carolina Hurricanes squad was another fantastic showing from the young stud. A playoff type affair, Barzal got the Isles on the board ripping a shot top shelf past Scott Darling. In the third period, Barzal dialed it up again, getting a secondary assist on the tying goal by Josh Bailey. He capped another big three-point night setting up Jordan Eberle for the empty-netter to seal a 6-4 victory for the Isles. Barzal’s effort that evening extended the notion that the Islanders had an extremely dangerous player in their hands.
4. High Five
While this game was early in Barzal’s ascension as the league’s top rookie, it was still as special as any of the feats he pulled off this season. In an early evening affair that saw Matt Duchene traded in the first ten minutes of the game, Barzal immediately stole the spotlight as did the Isles offense. Barzal achieved his first career best with a five-point game — assisting on five of the six Islander goals. The freshmen also set a new record for assists by an Isles rookie in a game and became the sixth player in team history to record five assists in a game. Contrary to belief, this wouldn’t be the last time Barzal would accomplish such a feat.
3. Mat Trick
Mat Barzal must have been very good all year long because just as the Islanders were about to head into the Christmas break, he received a present and shared it with the Isles faithful. In that December 23rd afternoon matinee, Barzal dominated the Winnipeg Jets. In the first frame, the youngster found the back of the net twice scoring the teams’ second and third goals. Past the ten minute mark of the third, Barzal would register his first career hat trick beating Steve Mason off a slick feed from Jordan Eberle. The Islanders would win 5-2, and it was Barzal who was the star of the show.
2. A Blueshirt Beatdown
With the team coming back from break, the Islanders were in need of a win to keep their momentum going. Enter Mat Barzal. Probably his best game of the season, Barzal and his linemates (Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle) would assault the Rangers, combining for 11 points in a 7-2 throttling. Barzal himself, brutalized the Blueshirts defense all game and totaled five points by the time the buzzer sounded — his second five-point game of the season, and his career. Recording another five-point performance really started to separate Barzal from the rest of the pack of rookies. And doing it against the Rangers added another cherry on top.
1. A Historic Night
People will say this was the most exciting and memorable game of the season for the Islanders. The same can be said for the wunderkind, Mathew Barzal. A very weird game, Barzal found the scoresheet in the second period for his first point. In the third, Barzal went on a warpath helping the Isles comeback from down 5-2, assisting on three of the four power play goals the team scored when handed a five-minute power play. He would finish the night in style, getting the lone helper on Brock Nelson’s OT winner. The assist gave Barzal a rookie record, third five-point game. The performance that night basically ended all the talk of who was going to be named the Calder winner. Barzal was clear-cut, the top rookie. No ifs, ands, or buts.
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