Welcome to our seventh player profile for the 2015 Draft. If you missed our sixth profile, you can check it out by clicking here. Each profile will document a 2015-draft eligible player that the Panthers could pick based on their draft position, which we now know to be the 11th pick.
Today, we’ll highlight Mathew Barzal, a center for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. Read on for a look at the number 11-ranked North American skater in this year’s draft.
Mathew Barzal was drafted 1st overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, and many speculated as to whether he would sign with the Thunderbirds or opt to play in the NCAA. Following the draft, he played his final major midget season with the Vancouver NE Chiefs of the BCMML and led the league in scoring with 103 points in 34 games, setting the league record for points by a 15 year old. The next highest scorer that year was nearly a year older than Barzal and had 18 less points in 6 more games played. The announcement was finally made at the 2013 WHL Awards that Barzal had signed with the Thunderbirds, and it came almost a year after he was actually drafted. In his first season with the Thunderbirds, he played primarily with Ryan Gropp and Justin Hickman and earned second line minutes. Barzal ended his rookie season with 54 points in 59 games which was good for fourth on the team in scoring, although he did play in 11 less games than the leading scorer, 2013 1st round draft pick Shea Theodore, who had 79 points. Barzal added 6 points in 9 games during the playoffs with the Thunderbirds who were swept by the Kelowna Rockets in the 2nd round.
This past season was Barzal’s sophomore season in the WHL and he performed admirably despite being sidelined for 28 games following a knee injury, which he sustained on November 4th, that required surgery. Prior to the injury, he had 18 points in 16 games making him second on the Thunderbirds in scoring. He went pointless for four games when he returned on January 23rd of this year before he tallied 4 assists against the Prince George Cougars on January 30th, and he would go on to have another 4-assist game in late February. He ended the season second on the Thunderbirds in scoring with 57 points in 44 games, and he had just one less point than the leading scorer despite playing in 23 less games. Barzal added 8 more points in 6 playoff games after being defeated by the Portland Winterhawks. Overall, his offensive production throughout both seasons with Seattle was limited due to the team being one of the youngest in the league. Also, even though he had good chemistry with his linemates, he didn’t have the opportunity to play with the same types of offensive talents that the top 10 ranked players in this year’s draft had the luxury of playing with. Interesting, Barzal either scored or assisted on just over 25% of the Thunderbirds 218 total regular season goals this season despite playing in just 44 games, and putting up 39 points in 28 games following a major knee injury is no small feat.
Internationally, Barzal has represented Canada on a few occasions. Last year, he had 4 points in 7 games for Canada at the U18 World Juniors, and this year in the same tournament, he was third in scoring with 12 points in 7 games behind top 2016 American prospect Auston Matthews, earning bronze medals both years. Barzal dominated the tournament this year and was easily Canada’s best player, earning him the award for being a top 3 player on his team. Despite being chosen to Team Orr for the 2015 CHL Top Prospects Game, he was forced to miss it while recovering from knee surgery, although he did return from the injury the next day for the Thunderbirds.
As a player, Mathew Barzal is cerebral and highly-skilled. He is easily the smartest player in this year’s draft class after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. He has the ability to slow the game down or speed it up and to take control of situations when the puck is on his stick. His playmaking ability is elite due to his ability to read the play and act quickly when looking for a pass option, and most of the time, he makes the best play possible. Overall, Barzal is dynamic offensively, and more-so than his stats would suggest, in that he’ll either make a great pass which will often lead to a goal or use his excellent wrist shot to score a goal himself. Currently, Barzal is more of a playmaker than a shooter and this is evident by just looking at his stat-line, but he is, without a doubt, more than capable of shooting the puck and will do so when the opportunity presents itself. His vision, playmaking ability, and high-end puckhandling skills making him dangerous off the rush, on the powerplay, in transition, and when cycling the puck in the offensive zone. When it comes to these skills, the best recent comparison prospect-wise would be Sam Reinhart who was drafted 2nd overall last year. Barzal’s skating ability is also high-end, and he is easily a top-3 or 4 skater in this draft. He is deceptively fast and can beat a defender wide despite having good gaps and not being flat-footed. Defensively, Barzal is more than reliable, however when he reaches his potential size-wise, he will be even more effective.
Barzal is another wildcard when it comes to his draft position. There’s a very good chance that Barzal could be selected from 6 to 10, but there’s also a chance he could drop to picks 11 to 15. As of late, many mock drafts do him him being chosen late in the top 10, however nearly all of the picks after McDavid and Eichel are very interchangeable. Had he been eligible for last year’s draft, he would’ve likely been a top 3 pick.
When it comes to the Panthers, Barzal should be on their radar, but not at the top considering he’s a natural center. If, however, guys like Meier, Zacha, and Konecny are selected before Barzal, which is somewhat unlikely, then Barzal should considered because the Panthers could potentially convert him to the right-wing since he’s a right-handed shot. This could allow him to be a bit more offensively-minded than we’ve seen thus far. Barzal has the potential to be a first-line center in the NHL, however the Panthers already have Barkov and Bjugstad jockeying for that position as well as other centers vying for a spot on the roster.