Earlier this week, New York Islanders Mathew Barzal revealed how he and Jordan Eberle refer to themselves as thieves. Looking at takeaway numbers, he’s right.
You can call him Barzy, Gary, and now you can call him a thief. New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal has the second-most takeaways in the NHL. With 28 takeaways on the season, only Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone has more (32).
In his previous two seasons, Barzal has 65 and 66 takeaways. With 28 in 22 games, he’s on pace to hit 104 takeaways by the end of the season. Stripping players of pucks or intercepting passes is something he likes doing and it shows.
Earlier this week, Newsday’s Andrew Gross wrote about how Mathew Barzal is a student of the game. Barzal is watching much more game tape than before. He’s watching power plays, offensive plays, and even defensive plays in an effort to become that balanced player everyone wants him to be.
But in Gross’s piece, Barzal talked about something else, something he and linemate Jordan Eberle talk about while on the ice together:
"“But I’ll see myself have a nice takeaway or intercept a pass. A sneaky play like that. Maybe I enjoy watching it a little more. That’s something I like doing. Me and Ebs [right wing Jordan Eberle] talk about being thieves out there and trying to intercept as many pucks as we can.”"
With seven takeaways in 12 games played, Jordan Eberle doesn’t have the same klepto-skills that Barzal does.
Barzal isn’t just joking about being a thief out on the ice. He’s actually doing it. His ability to strip pucks away is a whole new dimension to his game. It allows him to turn a weakness into a strength to turn a defensive position into an offensive one.
It’s early in the season, sure. And hitting 104 takeaways in a single season for a player whose previous career-high is 66 is hard to see. Only two players have hit 100+ takeaways in a year since Barzal joined the league in 2017-18.
But through his first 22 games in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 Barzal only had 16 takeaways, a pace of 60 by the end of the season. He might not hit 104 by the end of the 2019-20 season, but he might not be far off either.
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Now, if Barzal can start working on his faceoff numbers next, that would be great.