Mathew Barzal earns second ranking as a Top-50 NHL player

For the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, his climb since his tremendous Calder Trophy-winning rookie season has been a sight to see. And now he’s earned his place among the sports top names once again.

On Sunday, the NHL Network began its list of the Top 50 players ahead of the 2020-21 season which is now confirmed to begin on January 13th. The first installment of the show ranked the 50th through 41st player.

At #42 on the list was Barzal.

This marked the second time he had been mentioned in such elite company, the first coming in 2018 when he recorded an 85-point season as a rookie.

“Mathew Barzal could potentially be a top 10 player on this list, he’s just not there for me now,” analyst Mike Rupp said.

Back then he only had one great name behind him. Behind Barzal this time around some of the names read as (Patrik) Laine, (Miro) Heiskanen, (Quinn) Hughes and (Charlie) McAvoy.

“Elite talent, elite,” Rupp added. “It’s a process. It’s coming along, he’s working at it, but we saw some things even in the postseason that he’s got to get out of his game.”

Rupp has a point.

Barzal is still just a kid; he’s only 23 years old. But his game is only continuing to evolve under the tutelage of head coach Barry Trotz. That’s clear.

Per Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring in each of his three full NHL seasons (he played two games in 2016-17), and has scored 207 points (59 goals, 148 assists) in 234 games. Last season he led the Islanders with 12 power-play points, was tied with Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle for first with four power-play goals and led Islanders forwards in average ice time per game (20:03). Barzal scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 playoff games to help the Islanders reach the Eastern Conference Final.

What’s also clear — Barzal is considered a top-20 centerman.

Those at NHL Network pegged him at 19th on their board a month ago. And It’s easy to see why Barzal received that nod. As he’s continued his ascension, so have the Islanders.

Barzal now finds himself in the conversation of the 50 best players. The Isles make the postseason two straight years and had their longest playoff run in 27 years all with him being the one leading the way. The two go hand-in-hand with each other.

“When you’re a good player, what you want is the puck,” analyst Mike Johnson said while praising Barzal a month ago. “He provides such a unique element to his game that the Islanders need, they don’t really have … the ability to transport the puck up the ice, out of his own end into the offensive zone.”

This season is going to be a crucial one for Barzal. It will be his fourth as a pro and he’s expected to take another step forward and help get the Isles over the hump after they came within just two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Not to mention, he will have a new contract under his belt.

If Barzal takes it to another level defensively, and puts a few more pucks in the back of the net — his water high mark was 22 during his freshman campaign — he could make a huge leap up for when the Top-50 list is revealed for next season.

“Just like it does for any other team that has a dynamic young man upfront, [Barzal’s offense] gives you more balance. It makes you more dangerous. It makes you a deeper hockey club,” Barry Trotz said back in August. “If he’s having success or if he’s not having success, that dictates your level of anxiety on the bench for your team.”

Could Barzal have been higher on the list? Some will say yes. Maybe this year provides that argument.

But to be considered one of the top 50 players in the National Hockey League, you have to be one of the best the game has to offer.

Bazal can now stake that claim.