Nation Network Prospect Profiles: #8 Mathew Barzal

For a while, it looked like Mathew Barzal could potentially slide down the draft thanks to an iffy start to 2014-15 and a mid-season knee injury suffered while goofing around off-ice. But, even though he slid to the mid-teens at one point, this rating was pretty tenuous at best. Scouts have always liked the kid and were just waiting for an excuse to re-elevate him up the draft boards.

And with some exceptional international play, Barzal gave them exactly that excuse. The talented Vancouver native now comes in at 8th on our draft board.

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  • Age: 17.31 years old at start of season. Born May 26, 1997.
  • Birthplace: Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Frame: 6’0, 181 lbs
  • Draft Year Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
  • Accomplishments: 2015 World U-18 Bronze Medal, 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal, 2015 World U-18 Bronze Medal, 2015 World U-18 Top-3 Player on Team


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GP ES G ES A1 ES A2 ES Pts ES Pts/GP ES GF% ES GF% Rel TmG% TmPts% AA Pts/GP EA Pts/GP Adj Pts/GP
44 9 16 9 34 0.77 60.0% +11.0% 6.17% 42.5% 1.21 1.47 1.38
  • TmG% = Percentage of team goals a player scored in that player’s games played
  • TmPts% = Percentage of team goals a player registered points on in that player’s games played
  • AA Pts/GP = Age adjusted points per game
  • EA Pts/GP = Era and league adjusted points per game
  • Adj Pts/GP = Age, era, and league adjusted points per game
PCS% 2014 PCS Pts/82 2014 PCS% 2015 PCS Pts/82 2015
39.7% 52.2 29.6% 48.0
PCS Most NHL GP PCS Highest Pts/GP
Steve Yzerman Steve Yzerman
Jarome Iginla Michel Goulet
Gary Roberts Cam Neely


Draft rank:

NHL CSS ISS FutureConsiderations HockeyProspect Pronman McKeen’s McKenzie Button
11 (NA) 8 9 12 6 11 9 15

From Rafik Soliman, Elite Prospects:

Matthew Barzal is an offensive forward with very good skating abilities. Has tremendous puck-handling and is poised with the puck, while looking for the perfect pass-option using his strong vision. Owns an excellent wrist shot with a remarkable release. Barzal reads the plays well, looking for interceptions and is not afraid to block shots, playing a reliable two-way game. A complete player with strong hockey sense.

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From Craig Button, TSN:

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Strong with the puck and exudes a great confidence when he has it. He’s quick but never hurried in his approach and because of his patience and poise he can break down defences and create grade ‘A’ scoring chances. With an improved willingness to shoot, he becomes that much more dangerous.

From Cody Nickolet, Dub From Above:

Mathew Barzal is a game-breaking playmaker for the Seattle Thunderbirds…has no issue beating the opposition in a number of different ways offensively…features well above-average acceleration and top-end speed…possesses dynamic edge work which allows him to change direction quickly and go east-west at the drop of a hat…carries the puck with speed, poise and confidence…will take advantage of soft gaps if a defence gives it to him but will beat you wide if you try to play him too tight…would categorize him as an elusive player who subsequently doesn’t take a lot of physical contact…is tough to handle on the cycle due to his high-end stickhandling ability and slippery nature…protects the puck well when in tight areas and along the wall but could definitely use a few more notches of strength to his upper body…will be even tougher to slow down once he adds more weight and power to his lower body as well…can make plays at top speed but also has the ability to slow the game down…makes the players around him better with absolutely elite-level passing ability and vision…I’ve said his vision may be second to only Connor McDavid in this draft… can make adept plays both on the forehand and backhand including the ability to elevate pucks and land them in tight spots, adding a unique element to just how hard he is to stop in the playmaking game…has extremely good hands and the ability to stick-handle in tight spaces…as I’ve alluded to, he’s definitely a playmaker more than a scorer…despite being more of a passer he still possesses a hard shot with a snappy release…would be a guy that needs to shoot the puck more as he tends to try and make that extra pass from time to time instead of wiring it…when he does shoot, he’s dangerous and if he can put more pucks on net I wouldn’t doubt he has 30 goal potential at the NHL level during his peak years…wouldn’t list hockey sense as any form of a concern especially on the offensive side of the puck…a smart player positionally and is comfortable being the number one guy for a WHL franchise…plays with a good motor and doesn’t take many shifts off…seems to be somewhat inconsistent in his desire to always go to tough areas and to drive hard lanes consistently but it’s a small complaint and I don’t see it holding him back much going forward…I wouldn’t call him a physical player and he doesn’t have a ton of feistiness to his game…like most players his age he must continue to work on his defensive game, although he has a strong set of instincts away from the puck…his noted motor also transfers fairly well to the defensive side of the puck, as do his stick skills…is a bit of a puck thief…has been used in penalty killing situations as a member of the Thunderbirds and should maintain that ability as he climbs the pro hockey ladder…has been the Thunderbirds number one centre for the past two seasons and obviously the key pillar on their powerplay…his most common linemate in the second part of the season in 2014-15 was Roberts Lipsbergs as they played 22 of Seattle’s final 27 regular season games together…he also spent plenty of time with Ryan Gropp on his left side…he missed over two and a half months of action during the middle of the year with a broken kneecap after injuring it while wrestling with a teammate.

Our Take:

The funny thing about Barzal’s season is that as good as it was, it could have been so much better. Barzal led all WHL draft eligible forwards in ES points per game, total points per game, age-adjusted points per game, and contributed to nearly 43% of Seattle’s offense in games he participated in. Barzal was easily and clearly Seattle’s offensive leader up front, and if not for 19-year old Anaheim Ducks 1st round pick Shea Theodore, would’ve been Seattle’s best all-around player too.

Barzal’s slick playmaking abilities led to breakout seasons from Ryan Gropp and Roberts Lipsbergs too – neither of whom are exactly top-end offensive threats, even though Gropp could be taken relatively early in this year’s draft. As a rule of thumb, I tend to be a little skeptical of guys who post point totals that are lopsided towards too many goals or assists since that tends to indicate to me that someone could have been on a bit of a shooting percentage bender, but watching Barzal play, it’s pretty clear he was legitimately driving offense through his playmaking.

Barzal is an incredibly tricky player who likes to be mobile in the offensive zone and open up passing lanes with his quickness and skating ability. He’s always moving his feet and forcing defenders to react to him in an attempt to draw them out of position and create a scoring opportunity. What’s more is that Barzal’s hands and puck skills are so good that he doesn’t need much room to thread a pass or burst into open space. A head fake or two, a stutter step, or a quick cut is all it takes to get a defender off balance and at Barzal’s mercy.

Still, Barzal’s output this season wasn’t quite in “sure-fire first line forward” territory as he “only” potted an age adjusted 1.21 points per game this past season, which lags behind last years top-10 picks like Michael Dal Colle (1.35) and Nikolaj Ehlers (1.46). PCS also given him a ~30% PCS% this season, which is down significantly from his 2013-14 year, indicating he fell back towards his historical peers in 2015 rather than taking a step forward.

Fortunately, we can explain this a bit by acknowledging Barzal’s mid-season knee injury. The young T-Birds forward suffered a fractured kneecap this season and while we can’t specifically pin down the precise effect this had on his play, we can infer that he probably suffered because of it. Given his international play, how he finished this season, his qualitative toolkit, and how he produced last year, it’s easy to make a case for him being one of 2015’s most complete offensive players.

Barzal has to work on his strength just as all smallish young players have to work on, but given a few years, he could grow into a legitimate first line NHL centreman, and a 55-60 point per year playmaker.