Today marked the 23rd birthday for New York Islanders’ center Mathew Barzal.
Barzal, who was drafted back in 2015 and made his NHL debut two years later, has had a good career thus far and seems like he’s on the cusp of becoming one of the best players in the game.
Through almost three seasons, Barzal has posted 207 points in 234 games played. He won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie at the end of the 2017-18 campaign and has two All-Star appearances to his ledger. Barzal is also the co-owner of a franchise record for assists by a rookie in a season (63) with Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier.
Barzal has had a solid run before turning 23, but where does his career rank among some of the other greats to have donned the Islander crest?
First up, Bryan Trottier.
Granted the game was totally different from today, but Trottier was already building his legendary resume when he reached that age in 1979. Try this one on for size: A Calder Trophy, two All-Star appearances, an Art Ross and Hart Trophy.
Having that much amount of hardware before winning the Stanley Cup a year later puts Trottier on a whole other level that Barzal doesn’t come close to.
How about Mike Bossy?
Bossy didn’t turn 23 until the 1979-80 campaign, and we all know what that year was remembered for (Hint, hint: the Isles winning their first of four straight Cups). Individually, his numbers and accolades up until that point were incredible.
Bossy goal totals by then were 53. 69, 51. His point totals: 91, 92, 126. He also had a Calder, two All-Star nods, and two Lady Byng top-five finishes.
Again, just like Trottier, Barzal’s production isn’t up to par with what Bossy was able to do.
Let’s try Denis Potvin.
1976-77 was the year Potvin was 23, and by that time, he had already established himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Potvin, who became the first Islander to be awarded the Calder after the 1973-74 season, was being groomed as the next captain — he would receive that honor a few years later — and was a bonafide star. He was an All-Star in 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1975-76, finished second in the Norris Trophy voting in ’74-’75 before winning it the following year, and received Hart consideration two straight years.
Looking at all the hardware and accomplishments, this is probably the one where Barzal might not even be allowed in the conversation.
Maybe Barzal tops Clark Gillies and Bob Nystrom? There’s an argument to be made.
Neither Gillies or Nystrom were ever considered for the Calder, but their production is close to what Barzal has done himself. Gillies first three seasons 47, 61, and 55 points; Nystrom’s — 2, 41, 58. Barzal did only score 18 times last year which could in fact be the deciding factor. Nystrom and Gillies scored at least 20 or more in two of their first three seasons on Long Island.
Barzal will have his opportunity to move ahead of those two icons down the road, but he still sits behind them at this moment.
The last two players for Barzal to try and rank ahead of are Pat LaFontaine and Zigmund Palffy.
Barzal and LaFontaine might be on an even playing field. LaFontaine turned age 23 in February 1988 but didn’t have any hardware to show off yet. What he did have already was four seasons under his belt with two 30-plus goal campaigns, plus a 70-point campaign preceded by two straight years with 50 or more points.
As for Palffy, Barzal definitely has the edge.
Palffy didn’t really come into his own after his rookie season. That first season, 1994-95, Palffy only played in 33 games and recorded just 17 points. After he celebrated his 23rd birthday in May 1995, Palffy’s next three years were terrific — 87, 90, and 87 points once again.
So there you have it. Mathew Barzal has accomplished some great things leading up to turning 23 but ranks way behind some of the other franchise greats.
Hopefully there will be another conversation ten years from now and Barzal ranks as the top dog among all these players listed. One can dream right?
FULL LIST OF TOP ISLANDER PLAYERS BY THE TIME THEY TURNED 23:
- Denis Potvin
- Bryan Trottier
- Mike Bossy
- Clark Gillies
- Bob Nystrom
- Mathew Barzal
- Pat LaFontaine
- John Tonelli