It’s June 26, 2015, on the floor of Florida’s BB&T Center. The Islanders have already traded away their first-round draft pick, 21st overall, to complete the ill-fated Thomas Vanek deal from 2013.
As the first round progressed, general manager Garth Snow looked for a way into the middle of the pack to try and draft the player the Islanders badly want, Seattle center Mathew Barzal.
The Bruins had three straight picks, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. The Oilers, at 16 and already with Connor McDavid in the fold, were looking to deal. The Islanders brain trust held its collective breath as the Bruins make their three picks; none are Barzal. Snow dealt defense prospect Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for the 16th and 33rd picks and the Islanders get their young man.
A text soon buzzed through from an NHL scout.
“Someone’s getting fired after all this!”
Two years later, the NHL is finding out why the Islanders were so set on getting Barzal. He’s now 20 and piling up the eye-popping plays and points — he added another assist in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Oilers, giving Barzal 11 assists this season, one off the rookie lead.
And he brought Isles fans to the edges of their seats a few more times as well, including in the first period when he made four moves in a tight space to get by Edmonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom and nearly beat Cam Talbot.
“He’s young but he’s obviously eager to learn and get better,” Andrew Ladd said. “His confidence is really growing game by game.”
Doug Weight said on Tuesday morning that Barzal’s growing confidence will lead to some tougher matchups as well.
“We’ve relatively sheltered him so far in terms of matchups,” Weight said. “You’re going to get some OK matchups too when you’ve got [John Tavares] with 12 goals on the top line. But Barzy wants more and we’re going to give it to him.”
Teams are noticing. Another NHL scout who has seen Barzal play several times already this season said Barzal “is in the same conversation as [Arizona rookie] Clayton Keller. We can all see it. This guy is special.”
On the ice, opposing players are surely taking notice as well. His setup for Ladd early in the third period of the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Sharks on Oct. 21 is worth watching again, just to see the San Jose players a bit frozen in their own end as they watch Barzal fly around the net and find Ladd for a quick shot that broke open a tie game.
“Maybe I’m catching some people by surprise, but this is the best league in the world and these are the best defensemen in the world,” Barzal said. “They don’t get surprised too much. I’m just trying to do what I can to create chances, create space for my linemates.”
No one in the Bruins or Oilers front office has lost a job after that sequence of events on the draft floor in Florida two years ago. But the grumbling among Boston and Edmonton fans has certainly grown as everyone is now seeing what the Islanders saw.
Notes & quotes: The Islanders brought Alan Quine back from his conditioning stint to make the trip to Dallas on Wednesday. Nikolay Kulemin (upper body), injured on Tuesday, was placed on injured reserve. The Islanders still have one more roster spot available.