Mathew Barzal understands why so many people consider him more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer.
In three seasons with Seattle of the Western Hockey League, the 19-year-old center has 53 goals and 146 assists for 199 points in 161 games. Those statistics suggest Barzal thinks pass rather than shoot when he gets the puck.
"Goal-scoring for me is funny; I find it comes in bunches," Barzal, the New York Islanders' first pick (No. 16) in the 2015 NHL Draft, said Monday at the NHLPA's Rookie Showcase. "I have had a tough time finding consistency when it comes to goal-scoring. I find I'll go three or four games when I score five goals and then I go cold for a few nights. I just play the game; I'm looking to shoot and I'm looking to pass and I'm just trying to make the right play."
Barzal led Seattle in scoring last season with 88 points (27 goals, 61 assists) in 58 games, good for 12th in the WHL. The 27 goals were 15 more than he scored in 2014-15.
His 61 assists were 16 more than he had during the previous season, but Barzal said there's a logical explanation for that.
"When I get asked about playmaking and why I don't shoot more, I play with Ryan Gropp, who probably has the best release in the Western League, and Keegan Kolesar, who absolutely rips the puck," Barzal said. "I'll shoot when I need to, but if those guys are in a position to shoot, I want them shooting. Those guys are pure goal-scorers. It's kind of like [Nicklas] Backstrom [of the Washington Capitals]; if he's looking to shoot or he can dish to [Alex] Ovechkin, you probably want it in Ovechkin's hands."
Barzal, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Islanders on Sept. 10, 2015, credits his father, Mike, as being the driving force in his career.
"He has been a rock for me," Barzal said. "He has pushed me hard to get me to where I am and I couldn't thank him enough. He's a plumber, a pretty hard-nosed, blue collar guy. He gets up at five every morning to work the shift, so he used to tell me, 'You don't want to be doing this. Trust me, you want to live the life of an athlete and a pro hockey player.' Just seeing how hard he works is unreal."
Barzal (6-foot, 182 pounds) will attend training camp with the Islanders and hopes to win a roster spot, something he nearly accomplished last year. Although he is regarded as New York's top prospect, he's taking nothing for granted.
"I don't like to get too far ahead of myself," Barzal said. "I am going to go in with a humble mindset and work as hard as I can. Hopefully I can make a good enough impression where they can't send me down and I basically work my way into the lineup. There's nothing going to be given to me, I know that for sure."