There were plenty of kids wearing Mathew Barzal jerseys at the New York Islanders practice in Vancouver on Sunday.
They were youth hockey players from Burnaby Winter Club, Barzal's minor hockey alma mater in the first suburb east of Vancouver. Barzal's an idol for those kids, living proof that maybe one of them can one day play in the NHL.
But before there was Barzal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the guy to come out of BWC and was an influence on a young Barzal.
"He was one my guys that I looked up to growing up," Barzal said on Thursday. "Playing in the same organization, watching his minor hockey games back in bantam and pee-wee. I remember him dominating back then and just wanting to be like him. He went first overall in the [WHL] bantam draft and I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps."
It's clear how Nugent-Hopkins made an impression on Barzal growing up. According to Elite Prospects, Nugent-Hopkins scored 214 points (119G, 95A) in 66 games in his second bantam year at BWC. (Barzal had 153 points in 51 games in his equivalent season.) Nugent-Hopkins wound up being drafted by Red Deer first overall in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft and eventually went on to be selected first by the Oilers in 2011.
While Nugent-Hopkins was ascending to the NHL, he caught wind of a kid who was skating through the competition, getting word through coaches who had them both. Since then he's been following Barzal's blossoming career.
"I noticed him pretty much as soon as he started," Nugent-Hopkins said. "He slipped under some people's radar because maybe he got hurt in his draft year so he didn't go as high as he probably would have. For the guys that have known him for a while and seen him play for a long time now it's not too unexpected."
The four-year age difference kept Barzal and Nugent-Hopkins from playing together growing up, though Barzal remembers Nugent-Hopkins dropping in for a pair of ice times with his bantam team. They have skated together over the past two summers at 8-Rinks in Burnaby and have developed a relationship.
"We're at the rink competing against each other, chirping each other, having fun. He's a great guy," Barzal said.
Video: NYI@MTL: Barzal turns on jets, scores gorgeous goal
Barzal leads the Islanders with 51 assists and 69 points this season, which has impressed Nugent-Hopkins, who has 33 points in 48 games this season.
"I'm not surprised that he's playing well and already established himself as a high-end player in the league," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I am a little surprised at how many points he has only because it's his first year in the league and you don't see that often."
They'll likely be facing off at least a couple of times on Thursday night, which could wind up leaving an impression on the next kids coming up at BWC.
"I know that he's a really good player and he's having a lot of success right now," Nugent-Hopkins said. "So it's good to see a Burnaby kid doing so well."