Mathew Barzal mentions Jason Chimera when he talks about how he’s managed to do what he does.
Barzal is 20 years old and full of the type of vigor that comes with being 20 years old. Chimera has played 1,085 games in the NHL without winning a Stanley Cup, and every part of his 38-year-old body has been sacrificed in the attempt to reach his sport’s highest echelon.
Said Barzal of his passion: “I want to get into the playoffs and I want guys like Chimmer and Seids [Dennis Seidenberg, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins] — I’m playing for these guys as well. I want to get into the playoffs . . . I want to win, and there are some guys I want to win for.”
Fans quickly became enraptured by Barzal’s play — his speed, his stickhandling, his ability to blend so seamlessly into a league that ruggedly tests its promising players on a daily basis — but Barzal himself seems to enjoy thinking about the bigger picture.
He was named NHL rookie of the month for January on Thursday after amassing 15 points in 13 games (three goals, 12 assists) and is on the forefront of the Calder Trophy list as rookie of the year. He had a five-point game against the Rangers on Jan. 13 and is the only player to have more than one five-point game this season — and only the seventh rookie ever to do so.
Now, with the playoffs on the line and the Islanders on the cusp of a wild-card slot with only 29 games left, the center’s play seems more important than ever. He didn’t have a point in the last two blowout losses, so he knows he needs to step up.
“We’re kind of in a tight race right now,” he said on Monday. “I’m excited, we’re all excited and I think the big win against Vegas [last week] really rejuvenated us. I think it’s great . . . You just can’t get complacent. It’s been a pretty good first half individually, but there’s things we can clean up and things I want to control in my game, personally, but I want to have an impact on the game in many different ways, not just on the scoreboard. It’s going to be a goal for me to try to get better every game this season.”
Barzal mentions puck possession and the desire to over-handle. He also mentions being the age he is and trying to be who he is.
“I’m trying to play my game,” he said. “I didn’t know how fast I would adjust to the league . . . It’s fast at any age, and for a rookie, it’s hard to adjust.”
Maybe. Just possibly, not for him.