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Mathew Barzal's 300-game milestone coincides with more mature all-around play

The Islanders' Mathew Barzal passes the puck past

The Islanders' Mathew Barzal passes the puck past the Hurricanes' Ethan Bear during the second period of an NHL game in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 14. Credit: AP/Karl B DeBlaker

NEWARK — There will surely be further milestones in Mathew Barzal’s still-young NHL career.

And while reaching 300 regular-season games, as he will on Thursday night as the Islanders continue their season-opening, 13-game road trip against the Devils at Prudential Center, doesn’t yet make him a grizzled veteran, it would certainly seem to indicate Barzal has reached another stage in his career.

"I think it’s just nice any time you reach those, your first 100, then 200 and 300," Barzal said before the game. "It’s been fun being here. I’m glad they’ve all been with the Islanders. Hopefully, I can just keep racking them up."

Barzal, 24, is in his fifth NHL season — he has missed just one game in that span — and in the first season of a three-year, $21 million extension. He’s entrenched as the Islanders’ top-line center, a role he ascended to in Barry Trotz’s first season as coach in 2018 after John Tavares departed for his hometown Maple Leafs via free agency.

He set career highs with 22 goals and 63 assists — tying Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier’s franchise rookie record for assists — for 85 points in 2017-18 under former coach Doug Weight.

And then the new coaching staff set about to develop Barzal as an all-around player.

"I think he’s taking a jump in the area of acceptance," Trotz said. "And what I mean by that is the acceptance that the game is on both sides of the puck. The game is a cause-and-effect relationship. If there’s something that is your piece of the job, if you don’t do it, there’s an effect down.

"He’s putting those pieces together. Where, I think, when I first got here, he accepted it but wasn’t really putting them together. He did it because that was what he was supposed to do. Now, I think he looks at it a little differently."

Call it a veteran’s maturity.

"I think it’s 200 games, you’re a young veteran," Trotz said. "You hit that 400-game mark then I consider you a real veteran in the league because that means you had to endure, probably, five seasons. So, I always look at it when a guy hits 25 years old or 400 games, they’re pretty well an established veteran in the league. They’ve had growth as a player and growth as a young man in the league."

Barzal entered Thursday’s game with three goals and four assists in his first 10 games, including three assists in his previous two games. He had assists on both of Anders Lee’s goals in Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota.

Barzal has had stretches of dominance on the ice, where his dynamic skating opened time and space on the ice for both him and his linemates, Lee and right wing Josh Bailey.

Per NaturalStatTrick.com, Barzal entered Thursday leading the Islanders in shots (25), individual expected goals created (3.14), shot attempts (37), scoring chances (29) and was tied with Brock Nelson for the team lead in high-danger scoring chances (14).

But there have also been games that left Trotz lamenting he did not have all his lines "going."

"There’s obviously been some games where I haven’t been as dynamic or had the puck as much as the last two, or our line as much as the last two," Barzal said. "But there’s times when we get a lead, there’s not much I really need to go out there and break the game open or try to make some big, explosive play. I thought the last two games our line started to play a little better and hopefully we’re going to build on that."

New York Sports