CHICAGO — Mathew Barzal heard the nice things that Patrick Kane, one of Barzal’s hockey idols, said about the Islanders rookie on Saturday morning and Barzal could barely contain himself.
“Honestly,” he said, “I’m shocked he even knows my name.”
Pretty sure that everyone in the NHL knows about Barzal by now, but his youthful enthusiasm at getting to face Kane for the first time on Saturday came from a place of pure joy. Barzal already got to face off against Sidney Crosby twice this season and Kane, the other superstar to whom Barzal has drawn comparisons, was just as big a thrill.
And Kane was very complimentary on Saturday morning.
“Yeah, he’s a special player, very smooth with the puck,” Kane said of Barzal. “The thing I like about him is coming in as a young guy he’s playing with a lot of confidence. Sometimes these high picks or highly touted guys come in and they’re forced to play a different game. Seems like he’s played the same game his whole life and he’s doing that in the NHL, so he’s a really fun player to watch. I like the way he moves out there, handles the puck and it seems like he’s really deceptive, too.
“I remember watching him in the World Juniors and he’s doing the same things he was then as he is now in the NHL, so pretty impressive.”
Johnston gets the call
Ross Johnston made his season debut on Saturday, his second NHL game after he got into the final game of the 2015-16 regular season — one in which former coach Jack Capuano rested several regulars as the Isles jockeyed for playoff position.
So Saturday was Johnston’s first meaningful game. He took Michael Dal Colle’s spot in the lineup.
“He’s a big, physical player, he’s come a long way, he skates well,” coach Doug Weight said of Johnston, an undrafted free agent who is 6-5, 240 pounds. “He had a good camp for us. We want to get some grit, some physicality and Ross has proved his pace can more than keep up. We’re obviously in one a bit, we’ve got a lot of positions to fill. Michael’s done an admirable job and I think it’s important for guys when they come up, it’s good for him to watch a game. With our lineup, Ross fits well.”
Alan Quine took injured Shane Prince’s spot and Quine and Johnston flanked Brock Nelson to start Saturday.