Mathew Barzal’s highlight-reel goal shows he’s not just a playmaker

Dec 1, 2015, 5:24 PM | Updated: 5:41 pm

We all know Mathew Barzal can pass.

In fact, as of Monday evening, Barzal is tied for the WHL lead in assists with 33 in just 22 games. Brayden Burke of the Lethbridge Hurricanes has the same number of assists but has played in four more contests. Barzal is averaging 1.5 assists per game on the season, also tops in the league.

The question surrounding Barzal’s elite talent has always been his ability to recognize when to look for his teammates and when he should take the shot himself. For someone with so much skill, it’s clear that he often prefers to set up those around him rather than put the puck on net.

Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst said of Barzal: “Possesses an accurate shot but does not use it enough.” Ben Kerr from Last Word on Sports echoed those sentiments, saying Barzal has a “great shot” but that “he needs to use (it) more.”

It’s not an inaccurate statement. Barzal himself has acknowledged that he sometimes needs to be more selfish in the offensive zone and take the opportunities that his opponents present.

One of those chances surfaced on Saturday night with the Thunderbirds trailing 2-1 late against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

With about 1:40 left in the game and Seattle’s undefeated home record on the line, Barzal took a pass from Jared Hauf in the defensive zone. The puck landed on his tape along the right boards, and the rest is history.

The defense gave Barzal space in the neutral zone, which he took full advantage of before flying past teammate Jamal Watson and splitting Moose Jaw defenders Landon Quinney and Tyler Brown.

At that point, Tanner Faith tried to get his stick on Barzal, but it was too late. Barzal got the puck to his backhand and slid it underneath Moose Jaw goalie Zach Sawchenko. When the rubber finally trickled over the goal line, four Warriors defenders and Sawchenko were left within 10 feet of Barzal, their efforts to stop him having been in vain.

You can see the goal at the 3:38 mark of the YouTube video above.

It was Barzal’s seventh goal this season and perhaps the most impressive so far in his young career. Not only because of the jaw-dropping skill that he put on display, but because it came at a time when his team needed it the most. The game’s best players take their play to a different level when the game is on the line, and Barzal, who was just invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp, did that on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for Seattle, the Warriors were able to capitalize on an overtime power-play opportunity, ending the T-Birds’ home winning streak. However, without Barzal’s late heroics, the -Birds would have gone home from the contest empty-handed. Instead, they picked up one point against a tough Eastern Conference foe. All of this despite playing nearly an entire period shorthanded and losing second-leading scorer Keegan Kolesar for 17 minutes after he received a fighting major, instigator, and 10-minute misconduct for defending Barzal when he took a crushing hit early in the game.

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Mathew Barzal’s highlight-reel goal shows he’s not just a playmaker