Mathew Barzal has returned to All-Star Weekend. While this year's snowy skies and frigid temps differ from San Jose's sunshine and balmy weather, the Islanders forward is ecstatic for his second appearance at the league event.
After an impressive first nod where the centerman competed in the fastest skater skills competition and won the All-Star championship game with the Metropolitan Division team, Barzal remains just as eager after receiving the coveted opportunity for a second time.
"It's obviously an honor just being here again," Barzal said. "[There's] so many good players throughout the league. To be here with these guys, is an honor for me, being a young player."
Barzal is excited to use his prior insight this time around as he has a better understanding of what to expect, how the schedule generally unfolds and what it means to spend time with some of the NHL's elite.
"Last year I was so fresh," Barzal said. "I was like a kid in the candy store with it being my first time. It was an exciting game and time for me. I'm still excited this year. It's always a great event and I'm looking forward to the games on Saturday."
Barzal reflected upon the surreal experiences he endured last year, playing alongside the likes of Metro teammates Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Kris Letang.
"I walked into the room and I was sitting in the middle of Crosby and Giroux," Barzal said. "[Those are] two guys who I grew up watching and kind of emulated my game after. That was exciting. Other than that, just winning in general was really fun and having my family down there for my first game was really fun. The whole thing was great for me."
This year, the NHL announced that Barzal will once again be competing in the fastest skater skills competition on Friday night. Last year, the Coquitlam, British Columbia native finished third behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel with his time of 13.780 seconds. In the NHL All- Star championship game, Barzal registered five points (2G, 3A) to help the Metro best the Central Division 10-5. His five points are tied for the most points in a single game since the three-on-three format was integrated into the All-Star Game in 2016.
"Just being on the ice with some of the best in the league and to be playing three-on-three," Barzal said of playing in the three-on-three format. "For me, three-on-three is probably my favorite part of the games. I'm excited to play three-on-three with these guys and hopefully we can put the puck in the back of the net."
Now, in his third season in the NHL, the 22-year-old continues to garner outside attention and praise from across the league. Among this year's All Stars, David Pastrnak and Nathan MacKinnon had nothing but praises for Barzal.
"His speed is unbelievable and his work on edges is outstanding," Pastrnak said. "It's very impressive what he can do on his skates. He's a great player."
"I think his first year he had like 90 points and took everyone by surprise," MacKinnon added. "What an amazing player. I think he leads the league in possession. The puck is always on his stick. I love watching him. He's another guy [I love to watch] There's so many players, but he's up there...He's a pretty special player."
Fortunately, the novelty hasn't worn off in his second appearance at All Star Weekend and neither has Barzal's competitive drive to play amongst some of the best talent in the NHL. While Barzal may faceoff nightly against some of the NHL's top studs, the All-Star game presents the unique opportunity of consolidating the league's best for one weekend.
"I walk around here and seeing some of the best guys in the league - I saw Victor Hedman today - it's just cool for me being so young and seeing some of the best guys in the league," Barzal said. "This is where I would like to be every year. Obviously, it's a team game and you want to win games, but to get the nod is a serious honor. I'm happy to be representing the Isles. Hopefully, the Metro can win this weekend."
PHOTOS: Barzal At 2020 All-Star Weekend
Captained by Letang, Barzal is excited to represent the Metropolitan Division again and hopes to repeat the winning results he achieved last year. But much like the NHL, the parity is so dense and widely spread, he knows winning won't come easy.
"I think every team is obviously really good," Barzal said. "I think it just comes down to what goalie or who puts the puck in the net more really. There's so much skill out there. When you're out there you're obviously playing hard, and you're trying to have fun, you're trying to entertain and you're trying to enjoy it."