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Islanders’ Mathew Barzal showing growth in ‘acceptance’ upon 300th career game

Mathew Barzal Islanders
Mathew Barzal
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

By head coach Barry Trotz’s standards, New York Islanders star center Mathew Barzal is somewhere in between a “young veteran” and a “real veteran.”

The 24-year-old Barzal will skate in his 300th career NHL game, all with the Islanders, on Thursday night in New Jersey against the Devils; not the most headline-grabbing milestone, but a milestone nonetheless.

“I think it’s just nice anytime you reach those. Whether it be your first hundred, 200, then 300,” Barzal said on Wednesday. “It’s been fun being here. Glad they’ve all been with the Islanders and hopefully, I can keep racking them up.”

Playing parts of six seasons in the NHL, Barzal has accrued 259 points in his first 299 games with the Islanders. Only seven other players — Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Zigmund Palffy, Denis Potvin, Pat LaFontaine, Brent Sutter, and John Tavares — posted more points in their first 299 career games with the Islanders having made their pro debuts with the team. 

He’s become the poster child for the next generation of fans and the new era of a team that has made such a stark turnaround in the four seasons since the arrival of Lou Lamoriello and Trotz. Now, he’s rising up the ranks as an established voice within the Islanders’ locker room. 

“Obviously, when you reach 200 games, you’re a young veteran… You get to that 400-game mark, I consider you a real veteran in the league because you’ve had to endure probably five seasons or in that range,” Trotz said. “Most players if they’re good young players, they’re starting at 20. So I look at it when a guy turns 25 years old or hits 400 games, they’re a pretty well-established veteran in the league.

“They’ve had the growth as a player and the growth as a young man in the league. So I think that’s sort of, in my mind, their threshold. People mature at different ages. You have some veteran guys at 22 and they act that way and present themselves that way. Some guys take a little longer. In my mind, that’s how they sort of gauge it.”

Compared to where Barzal’s all-around game was when Trotz arrived, it’s significantly improved in his head coach’s eyes. 

“I’m going to give you this one,” Trotz explained. “I think he’s taking a jump in the area of acceptance. What I mean by that is acceptance of the game is on both sides of the puck. The game is a cause-and-effect relationship.”

Barzal has had to make significant adjustments to his game in terms of dialing back the offensive aggressiveness that saw him put up a point-per-game pace in his first full season, winning him the Calder Trophy. Over the last three years, he’s tweaked his game to assimilate to the Trotz-led defensive system — showing an affinity to backcheck and make the smart play before focusing on the panache. 

“If there’s something, your piece of the job, there’s an effect now,” Trotz explained. “He’s putting those pieces together where I think when I first got here, he accepted it but wasn’t really putting them together… He did it because that’s what he was supposed to do but now I think he looks at it a little differently.”

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