The New Bossy? Barzal Making a Name for Himself

Any similarity between Islanders rookie center Mathew Barzal and Hall of Famer Michael Bossy is purely coincidental.

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In his freshman year, 1977-78, Bossy was named the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy-winner as rookie of the year.

The NHL 100 takes a look back at Mike Bossy's illustrious career after being named as one of the 100 greatest athletes to ever play hockey.

Now a first-year man himself, Barzal is hellbent toward the Calder with 28 points in 31 games putting him one point behind Vancouver’s Brock Boeser as leading rookie scorers.

The difference is that the Isles guy produced his eight goals and 20 assists while knocking off a plus-eight in the plus-minus ratings. Boeser is merely at zero in the same category.

Were it not for Doug Weight‘s first-liners — John TavaresJosh BaileyAnders Lee — Barzal would be the club’s headliner. Certainly, in the locker room post-game interviews, Barzal draws as big a media posse as anyone.

Reporters know a budding star when they see one and Barzal clearly oblige them with a veteran’s poise. The New York Times‘ Isles man Allan Kreda has come away impressed.

“The kid is mature beyond his age,” Kreda told me, “and has togetherness beyond his years. He credits his linemates (Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd) with teaching him and being overall mentors.”

Those who have seen Bossy — such as Kreda — or played alongside him, as MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring did, agree that in this case, comparisons are odious.

“There is no comparison,” Goring told me, “because, as a scorer, Bossy was in a class by himself.”

That, however, is not a knock since Goring waxes ecstatic over Barzal’s all-over-the-ice pyrotechnics.

“Mathew certainly does not play like a rookie,” Goring went on. “He has an air of confidence, a superior hockey sense and is fearless.”

Hardly an Islanders game goes by — win or lose — without some sort of Barzal free skating exhibition that leaves opponents panting in their chase.

Goring also noted, “He skates at such a high tempo and has such a special hockey sense that he invariably knows when to make a pass to a teammate in better position to score.”

Barzal’s peripatetic moves are rooted in his ability to skate faster than most and then turn so well, thereby fooling the opposition.

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Weight, who has been husbanding The Kid’s ice time as well as assorted assignments, at some point could have Mathew do what Goring did so well, kill penalties.

“Barzal will be a good penalty-killer in the future,” Butch added, “but Doug doesn’t want to put too much on the youngster’s plate at this time.”

Which makes sense. Right now, the beauty part of Mathew’s game is that he’s blended smoothly with the veterans Ladd and Eberle.

When the trio is on its game — these nights, more often than not — pressure on first-liners Tavares-Bailey-Lee is significantly lightened. Veteran Newsday Islanders beat man, Arthur Staple is a pleased Barzal-watcher.

“For Barzal,” wrote Staple, “it’s all about standing out and fitting in. Standing out on the ice and fitting into an Islanders team that has a lot of long-time teammates.”

Happy-go-lucky might be another bromide that fits the Barzal psyche, although it’s Mathew’s artistry in rhythm that’s his forte along with self-assurance.

“Confidence is important,” revealed Eberle to Staple, “especially coming in as a young kid. You look at the best players; they all have swagger.”

Since he’s neither Superman, Captain America or Batman, Barzal could not rescue his mates on Wednesday night at Barclays. Nor could he remedy the porous goaltending and slow-footed defense that led to a 5-2 defeat.

Anders Lee’s two third period goals — the second on a power play — averted the shutout. When I asked him whether the Stars’ second goal in the first period — a stoppable shot that Jaroslav Halak missed — deflated the team, Lee defended Jaro.

“We have more character and more strength in this room to let that deflate us,” Lee told me. “Bad things happen like that all the time.”

When it counted most, the Dallas Stars could do nothing wrong. As for the Isles, they get a chance for redemption Thursday night at Columbus where the Blue Jackets last were defeated 7-2 at home on Tuesday by Edmonton.

“We just have to come out strong,” Lee concluded.

Where the Islanders finish in the standings will, in some part, depend on Barzal’s contribution over the entire season.

In Bossy’s freshman campaign, the then Nassaumen wound up first in the Patrick Division in the Campbell Conference and second in the NHL in points.

If they can match anything like that this time around, you can call Barzal the second coming of Mike Bossy!

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