On Tuesday, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal did not just commit eight more years to the franchise but also made a commitment to his teammates. Their support since he arrived as a young, unproven player back in 2016 has helped him become the player he is today.
And those players, many of whom are still on the current New York roster, impacted Mat Barzal’s decision to want to remain an Islander long-term.
A day later, Barzal expressed that the monumental decision was starting to sink in.
“I think once when you talk to all your buddies…and your family, you know, everyone’s calling and stuff, you kind of really feel the love and all the boys today just giving me a hug and yeah it’s it was pretty special yesterday.”
Usually, captain Anders Lee leads the final stretch on the ice before the players hit the showers. But on Wednesday, Barzal was given the honors.
And his teammates are more than happy to have him stick around.
Anthony Beauvillier and Mat Barzal have formed a very strong friendship. Despite playing against one another growing up in Canada, both were selected by the Islanders in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
And for Beauvillier, seeing Barzal get rewarded for all his hard work through the years was a special moment.
“I’m so happy for him. He’s worked his whole life to get to this point, and he was emotional when he told me, so it was definitely great,” Beauvillier said. “You know, I was happy for him, and I’m glad he’s staying on the island for another eight years and couldn’t be more happy for him. “I mean, he deserves it. He’s played unbelievable since the start of his career. So yeah, I’m super happy.”
For Beauvillier, he has seen first-hand Barzal’s growth at the NHL level. The biggest standout is Barzal’s reliability and accountability.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster ride. I mean, having, you know, a bunch of new coaches coming in and stuff, but I think his game has grown in a way where we can rely on him in every situation, and he’s a big part of our success, and he’s obviously very talented and makes unbelievable plays on the ice,” Beauvillier said. “So.. .his game has evolved in different aspects… and he can still be creative, and he can still be, you know, how can I say that…not flashy, but you know, making a highlight-reel play.”
“It’s exciting,” Ross Johnston added. “Barzal said right from the start that he wants to be on Long Island for his career, and this obviously proves it, so fans should be excited. He loves Long Island and only speaks highly. So we’re excited that it’s done, and I’m sure he’s ecstatic, him and his family. [He] deserved the contract, and it’s nice that we can focus on the season now, knowing that he is here long term.”
Like all of us, Johnston knows just how vital the 25-year-old is to the franchise’s success.
“So for him, he just keeps growing as a player, and he controls the pace of play for sure. When we’re going, when he’s going, we are a pretty scary team.”
For teammate Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who immediately committed to the organization long term with a six-year deal following his trade in 2020, also spoke highly of Barzal as a person.
“He’s amazing, he’s an amazing teammate. He’s well-liked by everyone… Everyone appreciates him,” Pageau said. “To see him commit, that just shows how much he loves playing for the Islanders, [how much he] loves his teammate. And, you know, he sent us a nice text last night to everyone just to kind of thank everyone [for being a] part of it and [for] him every day, and that just shows his character.”
“He had some leadership in him, and I think the Islander fans are lucky to have him for another eight more years.”
His teammates have also noticed that Barzal has become a much more mature player on and off the ice.
“Just seeing his maturity and not only on the eyes but off the ice. Just seeing how much work he puts in. You always see him stretching, working on something new. And that just shows how committed he is to getting better every day, and I can only see him getting better and better as the years will go on,” Pageau said. “He’s already our best player, and he just shows us every day with all the work that he puts in.”
But Pageau did have one thing for Barzal to work on.
“Now he just needs to work on his ping pong game to beat me.”
Ryan Pulock, a player whose eight-year extension kicks in this season, is happy to have No. 13 along for the journey.
“I think there’s a few guys in here that have committed their careers here on the island, and I think it just shows what a special place it is to play,” Pulock shared. “The fans, the area, and then you know, I think the group in this locker room, how well guys get along, is special.
“I mean, me and Mat have been here our whole careers and played a few years together now, and for him to sign an eight-year deal and for me to have my deal starting this year, I’m excited.”
And overall, it’s evident to Barzal’s teammates that he has a drive in him to improve each time he hits the ice.
“He’s always trying to improve [his game], and he’s always trying to get better,” Pulock added. “You know, his skating is elite, and I think he’s just growing his defensive game and just committing to it, and I think you’ll see that more is the commitment from him.”
“And I think it’s just part of the growth in a player and especially an offensive-minded player. It takes some time to really grasp, you know, being a complete player.”