Mathew Barzal future as winger next to Bo Horvat uncertain: ‘We have flexibility’

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Islanders Kraken Bo Horvat
New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14) celebrates with teammates Sebastian Aho (25) and Mathew Barzal (13) after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Seattle Kraken Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

EAST MEADOW — There is nothing set in stone, for now, to dictate that Mathew Barzal will Bo Horvat’s right winger for the foreseeable future at the beginning of what is expected to be a near-decade stint together.

Barzal, a natural center, shifted to the right when the team acquired Horvat at the very end of January from the Vancouver Canucks — a partnership that was limited once Barzal went down with a regular-season-ending lower-body injury.

“Do I feel that Mat can be successful at right wing? Absolutely,” Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “Do I feel that will be the best decision once we get through training camp when we have all of our people here and we see how the different lines can work or can’t work? That’s when I’ll be able to give you an answer. But I have no question that he can do the job the right way and I have no question he can do the job at center.

“It’s just a question of what can and can’t be done.”

That’s pertaining to the rest of the roster as the Islanders have four key free agents they want to re-sign while also abiding by Lamoriello’s creed of, “if we can make ourselves better, whether it had been yesterday or the day before, or today, or tomorrow, we will definitely do that.”

The Islanders still need another legitimate scoring winger to round out their attack and boost a lifeless power play that was their most sensitive of Achilles heels down the stretch and into the playoffs. Doing so would potentially provide one of the most fearsome first lines in the wing should the playmaking Barzal and high-scoring Horvat stay together.

Mathew Barzal Islanders
Mathew Barzal (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

“Mat will do whatever is asked of him,” Lamoriello said. “I thought they had some pretty good chemistry going and they did some good things but we’ll wait and see. We’ve got to maximize the talents together to get the best possible team we can on the ice that gets the best results. You have to give up your own identity sometimes to have team success.”

But the option of returning Barzal back to center depending on what’s out on the market or what the Islanders do to try and spark their offense this summer remains for a team that currently has five bona fide centers in Horvat, Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas.

“We have the option if something should come about to make us better in a different situation, we could change the construction of our offensive lines and do different things,” Lamoriello said. “We have flexibility. It’s always better to have more center-iceman than wings. Some can adapt more than others.”

Brock Nelson Barzal Islanders
New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) celebrates after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins with center Mathew Barzal (13) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Regardless of whether or not the move to right wing becomes permanent, Barzal is at the top of that adaptation list despite the 26-year-old admitting there is an acclimation period after being a center for so long.

“That’s ultimately not my decision,” Barzal said during his exit interview last month. “Whether I’m wing or center, if Bo and I are on the ice together, we’ll be able to create… I’ve been a center for 15 years so I wouldn’t say I was extremely natural right away but playing with Bo… [he] makes it easy because they’re in the right positions. They’re predictable.”

For more on the Islanders, Mathew Barzal, and Bo Horvat, visit AMNY.com