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Get to Know an Islander: Mathew Barzal

As part of the build-up to the first-round playoff series between the Capitals and the Islanders, Japers’ Rink will be looking at some of the important Isles players and how they might impact the series.

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals Photo by Geoff Burke/NHLI via Getty Images

Mathew Barzal

#13 / Center

Height: 6’0” | Weight: 187 | Born: May 26, 1997

Birthplace: Coquitlam, BC | Acquired: Drafted 16th, 2015 (NY Islanders)

Assets: Supremely quick with outstanding hockey sense, he produces loads of offense on a nightly basis. Is a natural with the puck and oozes great patience when he has it. Is very smart in all facets of hockey and has speed to burn.

Flaws: Does not own ideal size (6-0, 182 pounds) for the National Hockey League game, so he will need to get a lot stronger. Must improve his play without the puck and prove he can continue to produce elite numbers over time.

Career Potential: Talented, playmaking center with good upside.

(Via TSN)

Why You Should Know Who He Is:

There are plenty of talented players on the Islanders’ roster, but Mat Barzal is far and away the biggest offensive threat and best player the Isles can ice. His hockey IQ is off the charts, and even though he is only 23 he is quickly becoming one of the best playmakers in the game. He poses a threat at both regular five-on-five play and on the power play, where he is particularly lethal. Barzal has also improved his defensive play under the guidance of Barry Trotz, which has turned him into much more of a two-way threat. He led all Islanders forwards in ice time in the abbreviated 2019-2020 season, averaging 20:03 a game, and he is deployed in both offensive and defensive situations. He is incredibly fast, and he puts his speed to use in every situation.

How the Caps Can Stop Him:

When it comes to Barzal’s speed and offensive finesse, the most important thing for the Caps is going to be keeping track of him whenever he takes the ice. It seems simple, but this task is going to be anything but. He will be hard to keep up with, so trying to arrange matchups with equally speedy Caps skaters could help.

Mat Barzal has two notable flaws in his game: he struggles at the faceoff dot and lacks a bit of discipline. He lost 320 of the 548 faceoffs he took this season, for a low 41.6% success rate. The faceoffs are going to be hard for Washington to capitalize on because it is something they struggle with as well. The poor discipline, however, might be a different story. Barzal was on his way to a career-high in penalty minutes before the NHL pause with 44 though 68 games. He is sometimes easily goaded into taking penalties, and that is something the Capitals can run with. The Caps are excellent at getting under opponents’ skin and drawing penalties; Garnet Hathaway and Tom Wilson ranked third and tenth in the league respectively when it came to drawing penalties this season. If the Caps can take advantage of Barzal’s poor discipline and get him to take plenty of trips to the box, that could help neutralize the threat.