Today's profile is on Mathew Barzal, a center with the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds.
Mathew Barzal, Center, 6-foot-0, 181 Pounds, Shoots Right
Major injuries are a terrible thing for players, but they can occasionally be huge, unexpected benefits to teams.
Heading into the 2014-2015 hockey season there was a lot of hype surrounding center Mathew Barzal. After a couple of ridiculously dominant seasons in his bantam and midget leagues, Barzal had a great rookie year in the WHL, scoring 54 points in 59 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds. All of this success had caught the attention of scouts, who were widely in agreement that Barzal was considered a Top 5 pick in the draft and, in the eyes of some, possibly the third best player overall behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
Fast forward one year later, however, and things are a little murkier.
Barzal started this part year at a good pace, but before he could kick things into a higher gear he badly injured his knee in an off-ice accident in November, causing him to miss months of action. As players like Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome skyrocketed up the draft boards Barzal got stuck watching from the sidelines.
Not to be outdone, and knowing that he'd lost some ground, Barzal picked up his game in a huge way when his knee healed, scoring at well over a point-per-game pace to end the season. After his team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs he joined Team Canada at the World U18 tournament, where he lead them in scoring with 12 points in seven games and was hands-down their best player en route to a bronze medal finish.
In terms of skillset, Barzal brings a lot to the table. He's an exceptional playmaker, easily one of the best in the draft, with great skating and great hands. When you combine these skills with an elite level of hockey IQ, awareness and creativity it makes Barzal a legitimately dangerous powerplay threat, one that can quarterback an entire PP from anywhere in the offensive zone. His size is only average and he still has a ways to go when it comes to filling out his frame, but if you give him the puck and enough space he's almost always going to make some kind of magic happen.
All of this makes Barzal one of the most intriguing players in the draft. How much higher would he be in most rankings if he'd played the full season? Will teams be getting a true steal if he falls outside of the Top 10?
If Barzal is still available at 12th overall he'd be a magnificent pick for the Dallas Stars. The Stars have a deep, balanced prospect pool, but one of the few things that it lacks is a true playmaking center that specializes on the powerplay. The Stars have a history of success with scouting the WHL, and Barzal was actually linemates with another Dallas prospect, Branden Troock, in the 2013-2014 season. Regardless of who else might be available at the time, if Barzal is still around when the Stars are up his pedigree, combined with the team's organizational needs, should make him an easy choice.
A smart, creative player with a wide, strong, fluid stride…plays a 200-foot game…makes good decisions with the puck…has decent strength, and looks bigger than listed…shows flashes of dominating offensive skills, but need to do so with more consistency…not overly physical, but will engage in contact for the puck…shows his creativity, vision and playmaking ability on the power play…finds seams and open ice with his impressive senses...really doing well in his rookie WHL season…has high-end offensive NHL upside.
With 7 goals and 23 points in 22 games, Barzal was following up on a nice performance in the Ivan Hlinka tournament (7 points in 5 games, gold medal), with a strong start to the WHL season. Unfortunately some injuries have slowed him down though. The first overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam draft, Barzal is an outstanding skater, with top notch speed, great acceleration and outstanding pivots and edge work. He also has incredibly soft hands, great stick handling, and incredible hockey sense and intelligence. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He does need to use that shot more, and would score more goals if he was a little more selfish. He has shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his offensive finesse and skill after adding some weight this off-season.If he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him both in the WHL and eventually the NHL.