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Islanders' Mathew Barzal returns home to face Brock Boeser, his top competition for rookie award

Barzal, who grew up near Vancouver and will have lots of family and friends at Monday’s game, leads all rookies with 67 points.

Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders reacts in the first period against the Calgary Flames during their game at Barclays Center on Feb. 11, 2018 in the Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Abbie Parr

VANCOUVER — The Islanders’ present is fading fast after six consecutive losses, leaving them tied for last place with the wait-’til-next-year Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.

But on Monday night here, they will showcase a key piece of their near future in a way that has captured the attention of Western Canada.

Mathew Barzal, who grew up near Vancouver, will bring his Calder Trophy campaign home for the only time — and against his primary competition, Brock Boeser of the Canucks.

Both admitted after practice at Rogers Arena Sunday that while they try not to think about being named the top rookie, it is difficult when everyone in their orbits keeps reminding them.

“It’s pretty hard to not see any of that stuff,” Barzal said. “He’s had a great season and pushed me, seeing how much success he was having. He’s awesome . . . Obviously, he’s got one of the best shots in the league.”

Said Boeser, “You try not to think about it and worry about it . . . But it’s hard not to notice.”

Barzal leads all rookies with 67 points, 12 more than Boeser, whose 29 goals lead all rookies. Barzal, 20, and Boeser, who turned 21 last week, first met in a youth tournament when they were 14 and again before and during the 2015 draft, in which both were first-round picks.

“He’s been that good since we were little kids and I played him in Triple-A hockey, so it doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Boeser, who grew up in Minnesota.

The only previous NHL meeting between the two was in Brooklyn in November. Barzal had an assist to help the Islanders win, 5-2.

Barzal said 18 or 20 friends and relatives will watch Monday night from a friend’s luxury box, and up to 100 others will be in the stands.

At practice Sunday, he lingered to sign autographs for the many area youth hockey players who attended, many wearing Barzal jerseys. Barzal’s father, Mike, also watched practice.

Barzal has wowed the league all season, including three five-point games, but at times his youthful enthusiasm has frustrated coach Doug Weight.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Penguins, Weight chided Barzal for staying on the ice too long during the Islanders’ failed power play in overtime.

The two discussed it on Sunday. “It was my fault,” Barzal said. “I didn’t know how long I was out there. I was kind of just in the moment and trying to score and trying to win.

“That’s maybe just being young and being excited a little bit out there and getting antsy to try to score.”

But on balance, Weight will take it. “There have been ups and downs,” he said, “but many more ups than downs.”

Boeser knows all about it, because all of British Columbia won’t let him forget it.

“I can’t worry about that, or else I’m not going to play the type of game I know I need to play,” he said. “I think that stuff gets in your head if you overthink it or think about it too much.”

New York Sports