It was one of the more significant acquisitions the NY Islanders have made in a long time, bringing in Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks before the trade deadline. Desperately needing goal-scoring for their late-season playoff push, Horvat was among the best in the league before his cross-continent move, failing to bring that same prowess to Long Island.
Horvat and Mat Barzal formed a formidable tandem during their five games together before Barzal's regular season-ending injury. In that time, as Barzal shifted to the wing, making room for Horvat down the middle, the two consistently found their names on the score sheet, with Horzal notching four points (three goals, one assist) and Barzal tallying six (two goals, four assists).
It's been assumed Barzal would return to the wing this summer, but the Isles are willing to try different things at training camp to see what works best for the team.
"Talking to Lane (Lambert) a little bit, we're both going to have the freedom to play instinctively," said Barzal at the Islanders charity golf outing. "He's obviously a beast in the circle, so he'll take a lot of faceoffs. But I'm sure (if) there's a situation where I'm in the middle, and he's on the wall, we'll just roll with it. We're both smart enough to adjust on the fly, and we'll just go from there and let our instincts take over."
Having two natural centers as skilled as Barzal and Horvat is an advantage the Islanders have over most other top forward lines. The ability to swap positions on the fly can play into the Isles' hands while tracking back into the defensive zone.
"I'm not sure what the plan is here, but hopefully, we can rekindle what we had," said Horvat. "It was a lot of fun to play with him when we were healthy. It's tough for him and I, especially him coming back into a playoff series the way he did. I mean, it's never easy. I'm kind of just looking forward to both of us getting a training camp under our belt and hit the ground running that way."
Spending training camp learning each other's tendencies will allow Horvat and Barzal to become more confident in one another as the Isles hope to avoid needing an outstanding final two months of the season to squeak into the playoffs.
While the notion is that Horvat will start down the middle, flanked by Barzal, Islanders' Head Coach Lane Lambert isn't divulging any information just yet.
"We'll move things around a little bit in training camp, but you know, I think there's a pretty good indication of what we're going to we're going to do," said Lambert. "Again, things change a little once you start getting a viewing of it, but I think there's an idea there."
The Isles hit the ice on Thursday for the start of training camp, where around 60 players will participate before opening night on Oct. 14.