After winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, 21-year-old Islanders forward Mathew Barzal can be the new face of the franchise with John Tavares out of the picture.
"He's a driven, driven guy to be the best player he can be," Russ Farwell, the VP of hockey operation for Barzal's junior hockey team, the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, told Newsday's Andrew Gross. "He's totally focused on his game. He's a very confident guy, too. He was a really highly touted minor player, so being the show or being the guy wasn't foreign to him. His whole life, everybody has pointed to him."
A 6-foot, 189-pound center, Barzal scored 22 goals and recorded 63 assists in his rookie season with the Islanders.
However, the Islanders lost Tavares, the former No. 1 pick who scored 37 goals and 47 assists last season and totaled 621 points since debuting for the Islanders in 2009, when he spurned New York to join the Toronto Maple Leafs last week.
Despite the loss of Tavares, new Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told Barzal he would have an increased role with the team in the 2018-19 season and praised the young talent.
"He's a dynamic player," Trotz said on Sirius XM NHL Network, according to Gross. "You look at his skill level, his speed. His ability to separate from other people is impressive. So if you've got a building block, he's one of them."
Barzal said he and Trotz spoke and could potentially move to New York's top line.
"He said it would be different my second year," Barzal said. "I'll get more attention and, without John, it will be amplified. I'm excited about that. That's being competitive. I take that more as a compliment, more of a respect thing."
Barzal called Tavares an irreplaceable player, although new teammate Matt Martin said he believes Barzal could step into that role.
"I don't want to say he's happy about John leaving, I'm sure he's not that type of guy. But he does have a chip on his shoulder," Martin told Gross. I think he believes he can be one of the best players in the league. And you're going to have to have a bigger role to do something like that."