Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
When Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier showed up for their second training camp with the New York Islanders this fall, expectations were high. Management expected them to learn from their previous experiences and be even better, fans were excited to get a peek at part of the future offense and the players had one similar goal in mind - make the 23-man roster to begin the 2016-17 season. Neither was looking too far ahead, maintaining a level of maturity that belies their age of just 19.
From the day the two first took the ice together at Northwell Health Ice Center, their futures were intertwined, both battling to be the one making the biggest impression on management and the coaching staff. They even practically mimicked each other in interviews - "I just have to be the hardest worker out there. Earn every inch of ice, win every shift, and make myself noticeable." is how Barzal and Beauvillier both laid out their game plans to SNY in separate conversations.
As New York prepares to play its seventh game of the season tomorrow night in Brooklyn against the unbeaten Montreal Canadiens, they have, however, trended in very different directions that will have an impact on their place of residence for the remainder of the season, especially considering they have no real professional option outside of the big club. Neither is eligible for AHL consideration, being under 20 years of age and not yet completing four seasons of OHL hockey.
Barzal, thought to be the front-runner when camp first began, didn't disappoint in practices and tune-ups. He played strong and showed a real creative flair in the offensive zone. He showed the skill set the Islanders were said to be lacking since losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen and replacing them only with Andrew Ladd this past summer. Coming off a fantastic season in the OHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds where he racked up 27-61-88 in 58 games, Barzal continued that pace into the pre-season, collecting 1-3-4 in 6 games. His spot on the 23-man roster was announced on October 11.
Beauvillier had a fantastic year in juniors as well the previous season, collecting 40-39-79 in only 47 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes, his second consecutive 40-goal season. While not possessing the gaudy preseason stats of his partner-in-age (1-1-2 in 6 games), he instead impressed with heady, two-way play, being responsible in the defensive zone first and allowing that to lead to offensive chances. We all know what Capuano thinks of that.
When the season began for real at Madison Square Garden against the rival New York Rangers on October 13, it was head coach Jack Capuano's mission to alternate his rookies to see what he had as soon as possible. This was to alleviate a situation where New York would begin the year with only six active defenseman on the roster, something that just is not sustainable over a long period of time.
With Beauvillier getting the start in Manhattan, Barzal played the following game, a tough assignment in Washington against Braden Holtby and the Capitals. He would take three penalties on the evening, including one where he played the puck while still standing in the penalty box. That would be the last we would see of him to date. Beauvillier has taken the opportunity given to him and not run with it. He's sprinted.
With 1-4-5 in five games, a +4 rating and a 52% 5v5 corsi rating, Beauvillier has done more with 9:29 average time on ice than most rookies of recent memory to wear the blue and orange sweater have done, excluding the captain, of course. It is the kind of responsible, two-way play that is making it look more likely that it's time to start looking for more permanent housing. To impress even more, his current line, centered by Ryan Strome, and lately, offset with Alan Quine, has been very good for Capuano in all three zones.
Has it been fair to Barzal? Maybe not, and there is a fair argument to be made that he should have been given more of a chance in a true rotation. However, he is a victim of the position he plays also. New York maintained all summer they wanted to keep Strome at center and with John Tavares, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas also at the position, the need for a responsible winger was greater than the need for a potentially dynamic middle man.
That's not to say anything has been decided yet, but with Ryan Pulock on the shelf for 4-6 weeks with a broken foot and Dennis Seidenberg playing some tough minutes at age 35, the need for an Adam Pelech or Scott Mayfield will come. And it will come soon. Also in the mix is the fact Shane Prince is just about ready to come off the injured reserve list.
While Beauvillier looks at Long Island apartments or convinces a teammate he can cook and do laundry, Barzal might just have to reacquaint himself with the comforts of the western United States. Specifically, the beautiful city of Seattle. And wait….again. For his chance.