On Monday, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello stated that he believes he has the right pieces to complement 25-year-old Mathew Barzal.
Whether you believe Lamoriello’s words or not, the 2022-23 season is a critical one, not just for the New York Islanders to prove the haters wrong and showcase that last season was just a one-off, but also for Mathew Barzal, who is a pending restricted free agent.
Although Barzal has no choice but to re-sign with New York, the question becomes if he believes the right pieces are in place for him and the team to succeed long-term and ultimately raise a Stanley Cup during his tenure on the island.
Mathew Barzal never seemed truly comfortable with the linemates Barry Trotz placed him with throughout the 2021-22 season.
It’s critical to the team’s success for first-year head coach Lane Lambert to place the right players alongside Barzal to get the most out of him while at the same time making the Islanders more than just a one-line offense.
Let’s break down the production numbers of Barzal alongside New York Islanders wingers during the 2021-22 season with help from our friends at Natural Stat Trick to help us determine who head coach Lane Lambert should choose to play with Mathew Barzal to start the season.
*These upcoming statistics show team stats when said players were on the ice at 5 on 5.
Left Wingers alongside Mathew Barzal in 2021-22:
For the longest time, Mat Barzal and Anders Lee were the duo of choice for former head coach Barry Trotz, but when the two were not producing, the bench boss switched things up…for just a few shifts.
A little over four weeks later, Barzal injured his ankle and missed six games, while Lee played with Brock Nelson, alongside Anthony Beauvillier, a trio that carried the Islanders offense over those next few months.
Once Barzal returned from injury, he skated the majority of the time with Zach Parise on his left.
Here are Mathew Barzal’s advanced statistics for the 2021-22 season when on the ice with:
Anders Lee: 456:57 TOI, 50.17 CF%, out-shot 240-229, out-scored opponent 24-18, out-chanced 242-240, high danger chances 96-93 in favor of the opposition.
Zach Parise: 393:12 TOI, 40.05 CF%, out-shot 251-238, out-scored 17-15, out-chanced 228-213, high danger chances 100-93 in favor of the opposition.
Anthony Beauvillier: 71:55 TOI, 47.59 CF%, out-shot 42-33, out-scored 3-0, out-chanced 39-33, high danger chances 14-13 in favor of the opposition.
The Islanders only outscored their opponents at 5 on 5 play with Anders Lee, and Barzal had the same amount of high danger chances with Lee that he did with Parise.
Despite Parise’s age, entering his age 39 season, there should be no problem with him being Barzal’s linemate. Given how hot Lee was with Brock Nelson, it makes more sense to keep those two together and Parise is someone that compliments Barzal’s game nicely.
Anthony Beauvillier has skated with Barzal in the past and maybe Lane Lambert elects to try them out again.
Now to right-wing options.
Right Wingers Alongside Mathew Barzal in 2021-22
While the majority of the left-wing position was with Anders Lee and Zach Parise, Mathew Barzal had a bit more linemates on his right side.
Mathew Barzal was on the ice with Josh Bailey the most in 2021-22, but Bailey, who has been known to have a strong hockey IQ, struggled mightily this past season, as did many.
Here are the stats when Mathew Barzal was on the ice with:
Josh Bailey: 288:03 minutes, 47.75 CF%, outshot by opponent 140-131, outscored opponent 15 to 8, 155-148 scoring chances, out high dangered 63-55.
Kyle Palmieri: 210:34 TOI, 51.33 CF%, out-shot opponent 136-133, outscored 14-10, out-shot by opponent 127-112, high-danger chances 53-51 in favor of the opponent.
Oliver Wahlstrom: 200:22 TOI, 49.21 CF%, out-shot by opponent 137-126, outscored 7-6, 116-109, high-danger chances 49-47 in favor of the opponent.
Kieffer Bellows: 98:12 TOI, 47.55 CF%, out-shot by opponent 60-52, outscored opponent 6-4, 57-51, high-danger chances 19-18 in favor of the opponent.
*Anthony Beauvillier: 71:55 TOI, 47.59 CF%, out-shot by opponent 42-33, outscored 3-0, outshot 39-33, high danger chances 14-13 in favor of the opponent.
*Played both LW and RW in 2021-22
Although it did not work wonders in 2021-22, having Barzal paired with 22-year-old Wahlstrom could still be an effective duo. It has a lot to do with Wahlstrom’s commitment to just finding open ice in the offensive zone, rather than wanting and carrying the puck on his stick. He has the shot, and if he can learn how Barzal plays, he will get the chances.
It then becomes just about burying.
The 2021-22 season, which we can all agree was a tough one for the New York Islanders offense especially, should not be the only basis for determining Mathew Barzal’s linemates. We are aware that statistics do not tell the whole story and from what we watched post-Barzal’s ankle injury, he developed strong chemistry with Zach Parise.
Parise, 38, signed a one-year extension this past trade deadline and is not a player that is in the running for Barzal’s long-term linemate. Obviously, the focus is on this season coming up, and there should be no problem with having Parise on his left if that gets the most out of Barzal.
Now on the right side, Kyle Palmieri and Oliver Wahlstrom seem to be the strongest of options. 30-year-old Kyle Palmieri has four more years remaining on his contract, and 22-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom has one year left on his entry-level contract.
Palmieri struggled mightily in his first 30 games of 2021-22 and had the worst luck in terms of goals being disallowed. But in the second half, he found his game. Oliver Wahlstrom was penalized last season by Barry Trotz often, and you could see how it was affecting him during games. A little boost of confidence could go a long way for a guy like Wahlstrom, who has the shot to be a legitimate sniper in the NHL.
If Lane Lambert can get either of these two to click with Mathew Barzal early, it could not only set the Islanders up with a dynamic duo for years but also could be something that helps the Islanders reach a long-term extension with no. 13.
Remember, Mathew Barzal does not need to be the “no. 1” center for the New York Islanders. That doesn’t mean his line won’t get shifts, but Brock Nelson, given his play, deserves top minutes as well.