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Barzal pushing to break camp with Isles

Rookie impresses Cronin, Weight with strong start to exhibition slate

September 21, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
For the second time in as many preseason games, rookie Mathew Barzal lit the lamp for the New York Islanders Wednesday night in Allentown, Pennsylvania AP Photo by Chris Szagola
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Mathew Barzal came very close to sticking with the New York Islanders after making the Opening Night roster a year ago.

This September, the 20-year-old center isn’t leaving any doubt as to whether he’s ready to start and, more importantly, finish the upcoming season in Brooklyn with his NHL teammates.

Barzal scored for the second time in as many games Wednesday night during the Islanders’ 3-2, split-squad, overtime loss to Philadelphia in Allentown, Pennsylvania, improving his case for once again cracking head coach Doug Weight’s roster for the Oct. 6 opener at Columbus.

The Islanders’ first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft (16th overall) also opened some eyes last year, only to see fellow 19-year-old Anthony Beauvillier get the longer look after both made the squad following the preseason.

Beauvillier went on to have a very representative season as a rookie, amassing 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in his first 66 games of action during the 2016-17 campaign.

Barzal only made two appearances with the Isles before a quick demotion to the minors, failing to register a single point while picking up six penalty minutes in limited ice time.

Rather than sulk, the Coquitlam, British Columbia native instead dominated at the WHL level, spearheading the Seattle Thunderbirds to the league championship while earning postseason MVP honors by putting up seven goals and 18 assists in 16 playoff contests.

Now, sensing an opportunity to make the club out of camp again, Barzal has shined during his first two preseason contests.

He scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Sunday’s emotional 3-2 overtime win against Philadelphia at the Nassau Coliseum, and gave the Isles an early 1-0 lead with a power-play tally Wednesday night, compliments of an assist from fellow rookie Josh Ho-Sang.

“Matt’s a great player,” Isles associated head coach Greg Cronin gushed. “He’s visible because he has the puck a lot.

“The thing I like the most about him, same as Josh Ho-Sang, is they compete to get pucks back. They are so noticeable because they are puck possession players and their competitiveness to get the puck back is really important in helping them grow.”

Weight, who was busy coaching the other half of the Isles’ split squad to a 3-2 win at Barclays Center Wednesday night, also threw some praise Barzal’s way following Sunday’s victory in Uniondale, N.Y.

“He showed well today,” Weight said of Barzal. “Strong, some great decisions with the puck and he created a lot. I thought throughout our lineup we had guys who played their roles well.”

Regardless of the role Weight ultimately chooses for him, Barzal just wants to remain in the NHL for the long haul.

“I have a little more confidence,” Barzal said. “I’m feeling more comfortable every year. I’ve worked hard this summer and I’m hoping it pays off on the ice.”

Barzal will be back on the ice with the rest of the Isles for a full-squad preseason encounter with the Rangers Friday night in Bridgeport, Connecticut, home of the club’s AHL minor-league affiliate.

Isle Have Another: Anders Lee, who led New York with 34 goals last season, notched his first tally of the preseason Wednesday in Allentown, scoring with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. “It was good hard-working effort by our team,” Lee said. “I thought we had a lot of good offensive zone play and it was great bounce back and force overtime after some mistakes in the middle of the game.” … Due to the lack of available players on the split-squads, and an unforeseen late scratch of forward Michael Dal Colle, the Isles moved defenseman Devon Toews up to the frontline Wednesday at Barclays. Toews stunned his fellow teammates by making the most of the rare opportunity, netting his first career NHL preseason goal in the first period. “The guys were ripping on me a bit, saying if I can score, anybody should be able to score,” Toews said. “I just tried to keep it simple, I had two good line mates and I think we were buzzing a bit today.” … Thomas Greiss made his preseason debut between the pipes in Downtown Brooklyn Wednesday, stopping all but one of the 18 shots he faced over the first two periods. “He made some big saves in the second,” Weight said of Greiss. “A couple of backdoors where he’s over there waiting. That’s what Thomas does so well. He moves. He’s got a little [Roger] Federer in him. He’s an athlete, but a big guy, but he gets over and he’s waiting for pucks a lot. He’s got some great anticipation.”

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