Mathew Barzal establishing himself as an elite offensive option for Canada

Canada's Matt Barzal celebrates the 3-1 goal during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship match between Canada and Denmark in in Helsinki, Finland, December 28, 2015.   REUTERS/Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva     ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.
Canada's Matt Barzal celebrates the 3-1 goal during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship match between Canada and Denmark in in Helsinki, Finland, December 28, 2015. REUTERS/Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.

In the grand scheme of things, delving into great detail to analyze outcomes against a far inferior opponent can be an extraneous process.

Without question Canada pummelled Denmark 6-1 in its second game of the World Junior Championship – outshooting the Danes 56-11 – rebounding from a tournament-opening loss to the United States. It was a game Canada should have won easily and did so, despite allowing the first goal.

With that in mind, there was plenty of good news. Notably, players who were supposed to be key offensive contributors – Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome (two points apiece) – factored into the scoring.

That leads us to the performance of centre Mathew Barzal.

Barzal set up linemate Anthony Beauvillier for an easy tap-in attempt – allowing Canada to tie the score – and netted a beautiful power-play marker for the game’s fourth goal.

He was named Canada’s top player after scoring for the second time in as many games.

Not bad for a guy who’s spot on the team seemed uncertain right until the final cuts were made.

Despite being an elite set-up man with a proven track record for Hockey Canada, Barzal didn’t look up to snuff early in the world junior process.

He struggled at the selection camp in Toronto, was scratched from the team’s first pre-tournament game against Belarus and was used sparingly the next night before the rosterwas set.

Barzal essentially cracked the lineup because of his ability to create offence.

He has played in two under-18 tournaments for Hockey Canada, finishing fourth in team scoring as an under-age player before recording 12 points in seven games in April.

KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Mathew Barzal #13 of the Seattle Thunderbirds skates at the Kelowna Rockets on October 11, 2013 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Mathew Barzal #13 of the Seattle Thunderbirds skates at the Kelowna Rockets on October 11, 2013 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

“I hope so,” he said at selection camp when asked if he sensed there was a big opportunity to produce offensively. “You’re just trying to win hockey games with Team Canada. When you have that Maple Leaf on your jersey, the only thing you care about is winning.”

Barzal was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Barzal came into the league with plenty of hype, earning early comparisons to Connor McDavid. He racked up 111 points over his first two seasons, while being limited to 103 games.

However, that wasn’t enough to keep him in the running for the top of his NHL draft class.

McDavid was the runaway choice for first overall in June. Canadian junior teammates Strome, Marner and Lawson Crouse were all selected before the New York Islanders nabbed the now six-foot, 181-pound forward with the 16th pick.

“Come draft day it was a little tough,” Barzal said earlier this month in Toronto. “You never knew where you’re going. I heard everywhere from six to 10. Then you keep hearing other guys’ names, which is kind of hard.”

So Barzal is used to having to prove himself.

That’s what he’s done offensively in Helsinki – at least so far.

Barzal patterns his play after Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. He likes Kane’s passing abilities and Crosby’s killer instinct.

“I’ve always been a creative guy,” he said. “I just like making plays. I like having the puck.”

And he’s showed why having the puck on his stick is a good thing.

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