Barzal and Horvat delivered for the NY Islanders despite revolving door on wing

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The 2023-24 season was going to be different fro Bo Horvat for two main reasons. The first was that he had an entire off-season to he and his family settled on Long Island. The second was he was going to play a full season with Mathew Barzal.

"He was awesome, a lot of fun to play with," said Horvat of his most of the time linemate on Friday. "I think he grew a lot as a player, away from the puck, his back-checking, being able to strip guys. I think he took another step this year."

As the year started, there was a little uncertainty as to how well Barzal would adapt to wing, and in the early going, he flipped back and forth from the right and left side as former head coach Lane Lambert experimented with the best fits to complement the pair. The year started with Simon Holmstrom in that spot before Anders Lee returned to where he finished the previous season.

After Patrick Roy took over, Brock Nelson was elevanted to the top line during the team's six-game winning streak that brought that back into the playoff picture. That line, as well as Barzal and Horvat were broken up until Roy determined that Casey Cizikas' game was the best fit for the playoff push.

"It was kind of a revolving door a little bit at times," Horvat admitted. "To add somebody else would be great to our roster in general, whether or not they get to play with Barzy or I [sic]. We're always trying to find ways to get better."

The line with Cizikas was good but not great in the series against Carolina, going up the Jordan Staal line much of the series. Cizikas' speed and physicality were a good addition, but it doesn't feel that it's a long-term solution, though the emergence of Kyle MacLean does provide flexibility in how Cizikas, who will be entering his 14th season with the Islanders next year, best helps the team.

"It's only up to me and Barzy to go and perform how we are on the ice," Horvat said when asked about the change on their line during the season. "That's all we can control and all we'll be focused on during the summer, to get better."

The numbers show that the two were able to produce despite the revolving door. Barzal hit 80 points for the first time since his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season, and his 23 goals were the best mark of his career. Meanwhile, he was one of three Islanders (Nelson, Kyle Palmieri) to score 30 goals this season, finding the net 33 times after 38 goals combined with Vancouver and the Isles last season.

Horvat's ability to find space in the slot, combined with Barzal's elite vision and passing, made for the special combination the Islanders were hoping for when they made the trade with the Canucks. Each player started matching eight-year contract extensions this past season, showing a long-term commitment to the organization and a belief they can get back to deep playoff runs.

"I believe just about as much as anyone else in this room," Horvat added. "We've proven it a lot this year that we can beat really good teams. We have the guys in here that can do it; it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together at the right time and having everyone going at the same time."