This upcoming season is going to be very telling of the future of the New York Islanders, which also will have a spotlight on star center Mat Barzal who is entering the final year of his second NHL contract.
Many fans who watch the Islanders every night they play can see the talent Barzal has with their own eyes. He's as fast a skater as anybody in the entire league, one of the best passers, is flashy, and is one of the most beloved players on this team.
Despite these things, there is an expectation for next season that he needs to perform more on the score sheet because he hasn't reached his ceiling when it comes to the past few seasons.
Take his rookie season, for example. In 2017-18, he had his career-high in goals with 22, assists with 63, and points that year with 85, but has not gotten near there since. Of course, two seasons were shortened due to COVID-19, but he was still not averaging a point-per-game, and that excuse is not as valid for this past season either.
Barzal only had 59 points in 73 games this year and was a -15. Yes, his team did not perform well alongside him either, but he needs to be better.
New York Islanders' star center should break out in 2022-23
Barzal will have all of the opportunities in front of him this season to make his mark and earn a big check from Lou Lamoriello in the 2022-23 offseason. I'd say it's unlikely he signs before the season starts due to just that.
With Barry Trotz gone behind the bench now and Lane Lambert in, it's more likely that the Islanders won't be playing in such a strictly defensive system in the near future. Reportedly, he and Barzal didn't get along as well as others due to his offensive abilities being sheltered somewhat in said system.
Lambert actually coached three games for the Islanders last season while Trotz was unable to, going 2-1 in the process. The younger players had a little more spunk in their game during that brief stretch, including Barzal, so we most likely aren't getting a copy and paste of Trotz's ideals with Lambert.
So, what are the numbers we should expect? Given that players tend to perform better when they are on contract years, he could rack up say 20-25 goals and 65-75 assists. I think around 90 points is very possible given his potential and would be ideal for all parties involved.
If Barzal wants to lock up a long-term, big-money deal on Long Island, he will need to earn the money by helping the Islanders win games with consistent offensive prowess and production.
I'm not here to tell you that Mat Barzal is going to win the Hart trophy next year (not ruling that out, though!), but if the Islanders want to be a real threat in the near and distant future, Barzal needs to show us the dynamic offensive player we saw every night during his rookie season. Of course, management and coaches must help him out by putting him in a position to succeed, but the expectations will be high on him this year regardless.