After narrowly missing the playoffs a season ago the New York Islanders are right in the thick of the highly competitive Metropolitan Division playoff race. They have hit a bit of a rough stretch lately but their 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon were two big points in the standings.
Leading the way on Saturday was rookie standout Mathew Barzal as he recorded his first career hat trick.
Those three goals helped him take over the NHL rookie scoring lead (at least as of publication here) and moved him into the top-four for goals among first-year players.
Including Barzal, there are 27 players in the NHL as of Saturday afternoon averaging at least 0.97 points per game this season. Barzal is one of just three that is currently under the age of 22 (the others are Vancouver’s Brock Boeser, his top competition in the rookie scoring race, and the NHL’s reigning MVP and scoring champion Connor McDavid).
His development is a big one for the Islanders because of the long-term impact he can potentially have on the team. Assuming the Islanders can get John Tavares to re-sign before he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent, he and Barzal could have the Islanders set up with an outstanding 1-2 punch down the middle for the next decade. In Barzal’s case, given that he still has two years remaining on his entry-level contract after this one it would also make him a perfect complement under the salary cap to Tavares if he is re-signed at his market rate.
What is most encouraging for the Islanders is that Barzal’s early success doesn’t seem to be a fluke.
All of the underlying factors that should be lead to sustained success in the future are all there.
His shot volume is strong (more than two per game, a fair number given his ice time), he has a 54 percent Corsi mark, and while his shooting percentage is a little on the higher side (12.3 percent heading into Saturday’s game) it isn’t anything that is unsustainably high.
As the season has gone on the Islanders’ coaching staff has given him significantly more minutes. His top-six games in terms of ice-time have all come within the past three weeks. He has nine points, including five goals, during that nine-game stretch.
A lot of the Islanders’ future success is tied in to whether or not they can get Tavares re-signed. Whether they do or not they have another emerging star in Barzal that is going to be a key building block for the foreseeable future.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.