Mathew Barzal was flying on the ice in his first scrimmage, and practice for that matter, with his New York Islanders teammates on Saturday morning.
It was a good first sign for Islanders coach Barry Trotz to see the talented forward off to such a good start. Still, the Islanders bench boss cautioned it would still take some time to fully catch up to where everyone had been.
“He just needs to continue to get touches and obviously he was excited today,” Trotz said on Saturday, while affirming he believed Barzal would be ready for the season opener. “There was a lot of grind. There was a lot of special teams, so that plays right into what he does. He’s such a good skater, so it’s not really the skating part, it will be when you get into live bullets.
“He will get more and more of the game sort of type action.”
The Islanders will scrimmage on Sunday, which will mark just four days until the team hits the ice for real at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night against the New York Rangers. There will be plenty of eyes on the Islanders this year and even more so on Mathew Barzal, who was described by Anders Lee on Saturday as the team’s “cornerstone player.”
For the star forward, the approach won’t change this season. Barzal wants to play consistently and be the impact player he has been in the past.
“I know consistency is a huge thing and there are no nights off,” Barzal said. “I’m really going to make that a key in my next three years. Just to really be consistent and just work hard to move my feet at all times. I think for the team, the same things goes. We were close last year and we had a taste of how close we can get to playing in a Stanley Cup Final. It didn’t sit well with us afterward.
“We’re all just excited to get back into that competitive atmosphere.”
The transition for Mathew Barzal to get back into game shape shouldn’t be too hard. Despite not skating with his teammates over the past week, he has been training on the ice with Johnny Boychuk, Tom Kuhnhackl and Dennis Seidenberg.
More than anything, Trotz wants to see Barzal’s game continue to grow. His offensive skillset is no secret to anyone and Trotz would like to see the other aspects become stronger as well.
Barry Trotz addresses the media following Saturday's scrimmage.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 9, 2021
On Friday, Trotz said his goal wasn’t to turn Barzal into a Selke candidate, but he wanted to make him more of a complete player. The Islanders head coach expanded on that on Saturday.
“My goal is to make Mathew Barzal the best player he can possibly be and that’s on both sides of the puck,” Trotz said. “I can’t do and teach some of the stuff that he’s capable of. At the same time hopefully, I can help him from the standpoint of a team concept offensively and defensively. How he can have the puck more. Be more productive and be an even more important player than he already is for us.”