Mathew Barzal is not Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Dylan Strome. Let's get that fact out of the way first of all.
It's a fact that probably does the kid from Coquitlam, BC a massive disservice, as does his draft year happening to coincide with one of the most stacked first rounds in several years, particularly at his position of centre. In any other year, he'd probably be among the conversation for top three at his position in the draft. This year? He's not really being mentioned by a lot of draftniks in comparison to the Big Three. But then, when all the focus is on one kid in Erie and, to a slightly lesser extent, another at Boston University, it's going to be a struggle to force yourself into the conversation at the top table.
That slight "under the radar" feeling to Barzal could very much be to the advantage of one of the teams picking in the 10-20 range. When it comes to Boston's time to pick, if Barzal is still on the board (and that's by no means a given) he'll likely be the top prospect available. So what's he like?
STYLE OF PLAY: Barzal is a creative centre who loves to have the puck on his stick - which is lucky, because the Seattle Thunderbirds love him to have it, too. This is a video covering every Barzal shift of an average Thunderbirds game (in this case, a win v the Spokane Chiefs) - one in which Barzal scores once and assists twice in a 5-3 Thunderbirds win:
You'll notice that his name gets mentioned a lot, both offensively and defensively. That's because the 17-year-old may not be the biggest at 6' and around 185lbs, but he is always to be found around where the puck is, particularly in the offensive zone. His instincts and speed mean he's often used on the penalty kill for the Thunderbirds, too, and his stickwork and speed means that he's an effective penalty-killer with the capacity to force breakaways and even shorthanded goals, as seen by this nice finish, again against Spokane:
So so far we're looking at a player who's a good skater, active in both zones, and more than capable of finishing off chances when given space to do so-the composure shown on that breakaway goal is impressive at any level, never mind for a 17-year-old.
WHAT THE SCOUTS SAY
Scouts say that Barzal is one of the best two-way centers in the draft - he's fast, fluid and has a work-rate few can match, though this season has seen him slowed by injuries after a very impressive rookie year in the WHL. Scouts are already praising his two-way game and playmaking ability, and also pointing out that he has a shot that he maybe needs to use a little more, with one saying "he'd score a lot more goals if he were a little more selfish".
They also laud not just his physical play, but his hockey brain...his reading of situations and "hockey sense" is generally agreed to be among the best amongst this year's crop of forwards.
In short, Barzal sounds very much like a young version of...well, Patrice Bergeron. If Bruins were to draft him, he'd probably take another year of seasoning in either the WHL or at a push the AHL, but he could, if used right, be the long-term successor to Saint Patrice in the eyes of the Bruins faithful. Certainly, he has all the tools, and he'll be reaching the prime of his career just as Bergeron comes towards the end of his.
In short, he'd be a heck of a pick for any franchise-and if he falls to Boston at 14, then there is a very strong argument for taking him indeed.
After all, how often are you going to get the chance to draft the "next Bergeron"/