Nineteen and three. That’s how many multi-point and five-point games, respectively, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders has recorded this season.
The rookie forward hit No. 19 on Tuesday night with a two-goal, three-point effort during a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Barzal’s 22nd goal of the season ended up being the game-winner. His 60th assist of the season made him the eighth rookie in NHL history to reach the mark.
It’s been a big deal for the 20-year-old Coquitlam, B.C. native. While his NHL season will come to an end on Saturday night, he’ll continue playing this spring after accepting an invite to represent what’s looking to be a stacked Canada squad at the World Championships in Denmark next month.
A few weeks after the Worlds end, Barzal will be hopping on a plane to Vegas and picking up his 2018 Calder Trophy, which recognizes the NHL’s top rookie. The finalists won’t be announced until later this month, but it’s been clear that the Islanders forward will take home the honors.
We caught up with Barzal after an Islanders practice earlier this week.
Q. Being a kid from outside of Vancouver, what did the Sedins mean to you as a young hockey player?
BARZAL: “It was a great. I watched them for 8-9 years and I could remember just being in awe of them cycling the puck and holding it for sometimes a minute, two minutes at a time. They were amazing to watch as a young guy and they were legends in the city.”
You got to participate in the Canucks’ SuperSkills event in 2011. What was it like being around Henrik and Daniel and their teammates?
“They stood out to be just how nice they were and how humble they were. Obviously, they were the two biggest superstars in Vancouver at the time, two most humble guys on the team. It’s such a statement to their character. It’s just kind of the people they are, I guess.”
Nearing the end of your first full season, what took you the longest to adjust to at the NHL level?
“I’d say the lifestyle, just being on your own more, being around older guys. I’m a younger guy, younger soul being around 16 year olds last year, going to being around 30 year olds with kids now. It was a little different at the start, but I love it and every guy is a great guy so they’ve made it easy on me.”
“A little bit, yeah.”
Some floor hockey, too?
“Yeah, lot of hockey. Lately, not so much. I kind of just tell [the kids] to go upstairs and get lost, I’m tired today.”
Being in that Islanders room with guys like Seidenberg, Tavares, what are the biggest things you’ve learn off the ice from them?
“I’d say just how hard they work. The routine and just being maniacal about your body and that kind of stuff. Tavares is obsessed about getting better. Same with Seids. They’re so worried about their body and treating it well. That’s the biggest thing I take from it — just every single day you’ve got to take care of your body. You can’t have one good day and think that you’re all of a sudden feeling good. It’s literally eight months of the year that you have to dial in, and every single day they bring it.”
What was the biggest thing that surprised you being up here for a full season?
“The pace of play and how good some guys really are up here. You see them on TV and see Johnny and [Jordan Eberle] on TV growing up and these guys are unbelievable. But you get to see them every day in and out of practice, that kind of stuff. They’re pretty special players. When you go up against a guy like [Sidney] Crosby or [Claude] Giroux, that same thing happens.
“Another thing, maybe not really surprising, but it was just nice to see how the older guys treated a rookie like myself. You hear different things growing up how rookies get treated, but the whole time I’ve been here every guy’s just been really friendly to me and made me feel comfortable and poked me here and there. I love that stuff, so I would say that was a really nice surprise, just feeling like everyone’s got your back.”
Being sent down at the beginning of last year, what kind of motivation did that provide you for this season?
“I’m a pretty motivated guy to begin with so when I got sent back, I didn’t want to go down and just be too cool for a year since I had a little taste in the NHL. I went down and worked hard, had a good coach there [former NHLer Steve Konowalchuk], wasn’t thinking I was smarter or better than anything he said. I think that kind of mindset that the coaching staff and management here wanted me to go back with just really helped my progression last year.”
The rookie race was pretty exciting to watch for most of this season until Brock Boeser got hurt. When it was going back and forth, did you find yourself checking out what the other guys were doing every night?
“Oh yeah, every day. It’s kind of hard to ignore when it’s the TV the whole time and you’re getting Twitter mentions and Instagram [mentions]. It was fun. It was a great. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen come June [Ed. note: I think we do.]. It was fun there when me and Brock [Boeser] had four or five lead changes in the matter of two weeks.”