Western Hockey League rookie Mathew Barzal is a former HockeyNow Minor Hockey Player of the Year, a current contender for CHL Rookie of the Year, and – as early indications go – a future No. 2 NHL Draft pick.
ISS Hockey ranks the explosive 16-year-old centreman as their No. 2-ranked skater for the 2015 NHL Draft, just behind Ontario Hockey League phenom, Connor McDavid.
Barzal has exploded onto the scene with 16 assists (and 19 points) through 13 WHL games, this season. He is second in the league in assists.
Across the Canadian Hockey League – encompassing the WHL, OHL, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – Barzal leads all rookies in assists and ranks second in rookie-scoring among '97-born players.
It's pretty amazing to see the kid from the Burnaby Winter Club living up to the hype that has surrounded him since he was just 12- or 13-years-old.
"The league has been really good so far," Barzal told The Canadian Press. "I knew it would be a lot quicker and it has. I don't have as much time with the puck as I used to and everything is just harder. Everything has just gone really well, so far."
Seattle's head coach, Steve Konowalchuk – an NHL veteran of 790 games – has high praise for his prized rookie.
"It's pretty impressive the amount of offence he generates," Konowalchuk said. "He's just a smart player who makes good plays and good decisions with the puck.
"There are a lot of guys who have the talent to play in the NHL, but to do that you have to play a complete hockey game, be a good defensive hockey player and win battles to get the puck. He's improved and is more consistent in all of those areas."
The 5-11, 171-pounder may well be on track to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old, just as fellow Burnaby Winter Club alum Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did. For a few years, now, Barzal has heard plenty of scouts and coaches draw that comparison, especially because of the pair's superb and unique playmaking vision.
"I'm not thinking about [the NHL] right now, obviously I'm focusing on this season," Barzal said. "But it is a goal of mine. I think that should be the goal of all top prospects."
It will be fun to follow Barzal as he continues his rapid rise towards mainstream hockey stardom.
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