The NHL Entry Draft may not have played out exactly how Mathew Barzal predicted, but the 18-year-old said he was thrilled to have been chosen by the New York Islanders.
The Coquitlam hockey product was projected to go in the top ten, but fell to the 16th spot in Florida Friday night, where the Islanders selected him after trading defenseman Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for the pick.
Barzal told ESPN after the selection that he had no idea the club, which is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., was interested in him.
“To be honest, they were one of the teams I didn’t even talk to,” said Barzal, who was interviewed by 25 different clubs at the NHL combine earlier this month. “I had no idea this was coming.”
The fact the team traded to acquire the pick shows they appreciate his abilities and were keen to get him into their system, he added.
“At the start of the day, if you told me I was going to be an Islander, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he told reporters. “Giving up Griffin Reinhart, he’s a big asset. For them to jump up and pick me like that, it shows they have interest in me. You want to go to a team that really appreciates your game. I’m so happy they jumped up and grabbed me.”
Barzal grew up in the Tri-Cities and played his minor hockey at the Burnaby Winter Club. He even donned a Coquitlam Express jersey for six games during the 2012-13 season before joining the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, where he has played ever since.
A knee injury sidelined Barzal for a large part of this season, but he still managed to rack up 12 goals and 45 assists in the 44 games he played. He was also stellar in the post-season, where he scored four goals and four assists in six games.
“It was tough going down the knee injury but I was pretty proud of how I bounced back,” he said during a media scrum at the combine earlier this month. “I worked hard rehabbing.”
Since he has gotten back on the ice, he said his knee has been fine and there have been no setbacks.
The 5’11” Barzal is known for his offensive prowess with good skating and puck-handling abilities and many scouts and NHL experts had predicted would go higher in the draft.
Several teams, including the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild seemed like strong fits for the offensive-minded forward, but ended up making different selections.
But when the Boston Bruins started making trades to load up on picks in the run up to the draft, Barzal thought there was a possibility he could be headed to Beantown.
“I was a little bit (surprised about Boston), to be honest, and may the other picks too,” he told ESPN after the selection. “You never know with a draft like this and the talent in this age group. Anything could have happened.”
The Islanders were not scheduled to pick in the first or second rounds, decided that Barzal was too good to pass up.
They sent Reinhart, a 21-year-old first-rounder from the 2012 draft, to Edmonton for the 16th and 33 overall pick. They selected Barzal with the 16th and traded the 33rd to Tampa Bay for the 28th pick, which they used to select Anthony Beauvillier.
Reinhart played eight games with the Islanders last year, scoring one assist, but played most of the season with the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Should Barzal make the Islanders, he will be joining a team stacked with young propsects, including John Tavares, who was second in NHL scoring last season.