Mathew Barzal was back on the ice on Saturday, as the Islanders leading scorer in 2019-20 agreed to terms on a new deal with the team.
The deal has not been officially announced, and as a result, terms are undisclosed, but it was an exciting development for Barzal and Islanders as they continue to ramp up for the 2020-21 season. Barzal said he was itching to get back out on the ice with his teammates and was excited to be back at practice.
"I was anxious, I wanted to get back out on the ice with the boys," Barzal said. "I saw them having fun the last four or five days at practice and at camp and obviously I wanted to be a part of that. Today just being back on the ice with the guys I was excited the moment I stepped on the ice."
While Barzal missed the first four days of on-ice activity at camp, the center got down to business quickly, jumping out for two quick goals during the team's four-on-four scrimmage. Head Coach Barry Trotz said there was plenty of hooting and hollering in practice, with Barzal adding some excitable energy to the skate.
"Same old Barzy," captain Anders Lee said, offering his assessment of Barzal's first skate. "He makes things happen when he has the puck."
Barzal arrived on Long Island without a contract, but kept himself in shape by skating with Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk and after Islanders practices.
"I wanted to be down here to make sure I was ready for the start of the season no matter what the case was with my contract," Barzal said. "They put me through the paces the last four days. I'd say my cardio is almost there and getting out there today and getting a long skate and more battle drills, feeling guys and getting a little more physical stuff was good for me today and another step in the right direction."
The 23-year-old said negotiations were productive and respectful on both sides and that the outside challenges of a pandemic were part of the reason for his delayed return, as this is uncharted waters for players, agents and GMs alike. Barzal affirmed his love for the Islanders and Long Island several times during his first media availability of the season.
"I think it's pretty clear that I love it on the Island," Barzal said. "The thought that maybe wanted to go somewhere else, I don't think anyone was even thinking that... I love being here. This is a fun place to be and a fun place to play."
Barzal's teammates were also confident that a deal would get worked out before the season, recognizing the additional challenges presented by the pandemic and a flat salary cap. They were just excited to have Barzal back in the fold.
"I'm glad it worked out and that he could join us today," Lee said. "Just getting ready for the year and as much time as you can get with each other on the ice before everything gets going. Happy it's all done for him and our team and we're all just excited to get things started."
Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring in each of the past three seasons, with 60 points (19G, 41A) in 68 games last season. The Coquitlam, BC native has 207 points (59G, 148A) in 234 games in his Islanders career. Barzal's 207 points since the start of the 2017-18 season are tied for 31st in the NHL over that span.
"He's a big part of our team and we obviously need him to win," Anthony Beauvillier said during Sunday's media day.
Video: 2021 Training Camp 1/9: Mat Barzal
Armed with a new deal, Barzal said he's looking to work on his consistency, and wants to keep his feet moving at all times. He's not fazed by the pressures of a new deal either, embracing the new expectations.
"I know the expectation is going to be higher, but I think I have a pretty good mentality in terms of just focusing on hockey and not really worrying about expectations or pressure or any of that stuff," Barzal said. "I just go out and play and if I'm moving my feet, being dynamic and being the player I know I can be, when you're prepared for something and ready to go, I don't find there's too much [pressure]. If you're ready to go, you shouldn't be nervous or [feel] any pressure. I feel ready to go right now."
The Islanders start the season on Jan. 14 against the New York Rangers, giving the team less than a week to fine-tune their game before taking the stage at Madison Square Garden. Barzal's presence gives the Islanders nearly a full complement of skaters. Only Kuhnhackl (undisclosed) and Simon Holmstrom, who had to quarantine after playing in the World Juniors, have yet to skate with the team thus far.