Mathew Barzal is having a fantastic start to the year with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Islanders’ 2015 first-round pick (16th overall) – and the team’s last junior cut at training camp – has 40 points (7G, 33A) in 22 games in the Western Hockey League. The accolades are piling up for Barzal, who was named the WHL’s Player of the Month for November, on the same day he was invited to Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp. NewYorkIslanders.com caught up with Barzal to talk about his season and what he learned at Islanders camp.
NewYorkIslanders.com: Has the junior game ‘slowed down’ for you after experiencing an NHL training camp and preseason?
Mathew Barzal: Yeah a little bit. Obviously there are still some pretty high-end players here who play a fast game and aside from the speed down here, I’ve been getting targeted a lot harder with two, sometimes three guys on me at a time. Up there you can’t really do that as much. In terms of pace, it’s definitely slower, but that fits into my game pretty well. Again, it’s just making the right plays all the time and trying to play that pro hard game every night.
NYI: What did you learn in camp that you brought back with you to Seattle?
MB: Just the way I watched John Tavares and some of those other pros, guys like Anders Lee and Travis Hamonic. These guys come to the rink every day and work so hard, they don’t take any drill or anything off. It’s basically just that, going out there and working hard and making sure every day is a new day. You can’t get too cocky with having a good season so far, just keep going game to game.
NYI: You were named to Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp, what would it mean to you to make that team?
MB: It would be an honor. Even to be selected to the camp is great, but there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s four cuts and 17 real good high-end forwards there, so going in there with a mindset that I want to make this team and I want to win a gold medal. Anything less than a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors is a disappointment, so that’s obviously the goal.
NYI: There’s a lot of competition at that camp featuring 19 first or second round picks – including Michael Dal Colle and Anthony Beauvillier. How hard is it to make that team?
MB: There’s a lot of good 19-year-olds. The 1996 age group is pretty strong. Especially as an 18-year-old, you have to come in and work hard, you can’t come in too confident. Those 19-year-olds, it’s their last kick at the can for this thing and they obviously want to make that team, so as an 18-year-old, you have to work as hard or harder and not think that you have another shot next year, you have to come in and work hard and do whatever you can for this team to win.
NYI: You and Anthony Beauvillier played – and roomed – together at the U-18s last season, and were both drafted in the first round in June. I imagine it’d be pretty cool to play at the World Juniors together.
MB: It’s awesome to see him having a good season and hopefully at the end of the main camp we’re both on the team and both come back with some gold medals.
NYI: You said you were happy to fall a few spots in the draft to play for a contender, but has that been some extra motivation heading into this season?
MB: For sure. I’m always looking at other guys’ stats and highlights and what they are doing. That drives me, especially on draft day when I kept hearing other guys’ names get called in front of me. It pushes me to be a great player and to make the Islanders look like they made the right decision, taking me at 16.
NYI: Did you watch Isles-Rangers?
MB: I caught the highlights. It’s obviously great to see them get a big win over the Rangers. The place looked like it was buzzing pretty good.