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Islanders prospect Mathew Barzal opening eyes

Center producing in WHL, hoping for call-up to New York

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- Mathew Barzal is doing everything he's been asked to do.

After playing two games for the New York Islanders in October, the 19-year-old center was sent back to Seattle of the Western Hockey League and told to continue his progression and dominate.

Barzal, selected by the Islanders in the first round (No. 16) of the 2015 NHL Draft, has done just that, with 79 points (10 goals, 69 assists) in 41 games. He has 60 points (eight goals, 52 assists) in 28 games since his return to the lineup after the 2017 World Junior Championship and was named the WHL Player of the Month for February when he had 33 points (two goals, 31 assists) in 14 games.

"He's been the best forward in the WHL," Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "He's been really good over the second half, carrying the play not just offensively, but [on] both sides of the puck. He's paying attention to all the details away from the puck and really playing like a professional hockey player."

Playing for the Islanders and becoming a mainstay in the lineup is Barzal's ultimate goal. He has followed the play of the Islanders, including the recent call-up of forward Joshua Ho-Sang, 21, as New York fights for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"The expectation when I was there was getting into the playoffs and making a run," Barzal said. "They're in a battle for a playoff spot, and if they get in they're going to be a tough team to beat. I feel the defense is solid and [center] John Tavares can pretty much win you a series; he's that good."

Of course, things have changed with the Islanders since Barzal was there. Jack Capuano, who gave Barzal the mission to improve in Seattle, was fired as coach Jan. 17 and replaced by assistant Doug Weight.

"[Weight] was great to me when I was there," Barzal said. "He was [good on] the power play [in his NHL career], skilled player, and he and I got along well. He's a super nice guy and he brought me to his house for dinner one night. I hung out with his kid and shot some pucks. 

"I texted [Weight] when he got the coaching job and congratulated him."

Barzal wants to bring a WHL championship to Seattle, which lost to Brandon in five games in last season's final, and there is a chance he could rejoin the Islanders in the playoffs once Seattle's season is over.

If Barzal doesn't receive a call-up this season, he appears ready to impress at training camp in September.

"I see that Joshua Ho-Sang got a recent call-up but there's a lot of good players with the Islanders," Barzal said. "Whether you're 26 years old or 19, it's just a matter of how you play."

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