Returning Mathew Barzal to the Seattle Thunderbirds was a tough decision for the New York Islanders.
Barzal, the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, was returned to the WHL on Wednesday morning. The reason: continuing his development. Barzal played in two of 13 games for the Islanders after sticking around with the club after training camp, but management felt he'd be better suited to get regular reps in Seattle.
"For us as a staff we met with Mathew really with the sentiment that we have now is that it's best for his development to go back and play some hockey," Head Coach Jack Capuano said.
His limited appearances were never an indictment on his skill, but rather the result of the Islanders depth at center. It was tough for him to crack the lineup with established guys like John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas down the middle.
Capuano made sure to let Barzal know that he liked a lot of what he brought to the team.
"He's a great teammate and has a high-character personality about him," Capuano said. "He's got a great work ethic about him. He's going to be an Islander for a long time. I know that Garth, myself and all of the coaches have a lot of confidence in him."
At 19, Barzal is at a crossroads most high-end prospects face. He's too young to play in the American Hockey League, so it's either the NHL or juniors. Now returned, Barzal can't be recalled until after Seattle's season.
"He's a pretty proud and motivated kid and that's what's going to make him a really good hockey player," John Tavares said. "I think more and more from last year to this year you see the improvement, getting the taste of what it's like and practicing every day and getting a couple games in can go a long way for him."
"It'll be good for him to start playing, a young guy needs to play and he'll get an opportunity at the World Juniors which is a great way to develop, play against some of the best players around the world in your age group."
Tavares also wanted Barzal to know that he left a good impression on the Islanders.
"Just a great kid and he'll be a big part of the team in the long haul," the captain said. "He was great the way he approached the game and being around the guys."