The New York Islanders are coming off their first playoff series win in 23 years at their new home. The question is can they build on that? Lots of questions are surrounding this team coming into the year. Who will emerge as the long term starting goaltender? Will Andrew Ladd be able to match the production of Kyle Okposo? Will the loss of Matt Martin/Frans Nielsen affect the locker room? So many questions to answer but many new faces will be ready to contribute
The offense is always in good hands when led by star John Tavares. Coming off what some people say was a “down” year for JT; he is poised to have one of the better seasons of his career. Andrew Ladd is a very strong versatile winger capable of 30 + goals and will open more room for Tavares on the first line. The question is who will play with them? It was expected to be former Islander P.A. Parenteau but he was claimed on waivers Monday by the Devils. My guess is Brock Nelson will eventually move to the top line spot but recently in practice new acquisition Jason Chimera was on that line. Regardless who joins JT/Ladd on the first line; they are both expected to have career years.
The big question is whether Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson will be able to take the next step. Ryan Strome had an abysmal season last year and Lee got off to a very slow start and missed the entire playoffs with a leg injury. Brock Nelson put in 26 goals but seemed to look out of place on most nights and was in the doghouse a lot by coach Jack Capuano.
The bottom 6 remains similar to last year just subtracting Matt Martin and adding an influx of young forwards in Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. It remains to be seen whether the 19 year olds will stick around for the whole year but after strong training camps, the isles are giving them a shot. These two kids could provide a nice offensive spark to an islander offense that will desperately need it. Expect Cal Clutterbuck to have a strong year with his contract expiring next season and hopefully Casey Cizikas will be able to provide more offense after signing a large deal in the summer.
The best news coming into the year for the Islander defense was the fact Travis Hamonic rescinded his trade request in the offseason. The Isles would not be able to bring in equal value of what Travis brings to this team every night. Johnny Boychuk really struggled in the postseason. Although some believe he was nursing an injury, it is very important Boychuk returns to his old form. He will be heavily relied on along with Nick Leddy. Nick Leddy will be extremely important to the defense as he averaged over 22 minutes per game last year.
Calvin De Haan is another year older and is continuing to develop into a top defenseman. Thomas Hickey took a huge step last year producing offensively and was one of the more reliable defenseman in the postseason for the isles. The Wild Card for this defense is first round pick Ryan Pulock. The 6’3 defenseman has cannon of a shot, over 103 mph, but unfortunately will start the year in Bridgeport due to roster space. It is expected Pulock will rejoin the team very soon and will have an immediate impact defensively, and especially on the Power Play. The veteran Dennis Seidenberg was added last week to provide experience and much needed depth for a team who always seems to be depleted with injuries.
It’s going to be very interesting to see who takes control between the pipes for the NYI. Obviously Jaroslav Halak is still the true number one but after getting hurt last year, Thomas Greiss successfully carried this team to the second round. Also waiting in the wings is JF Berube who has shown flashes of brilliance but it’s clear he needs more seasoning. The Islanders cannot send Berube to the minors without the risk of losing him on waivers.
Jaro Halak was not happy with the three goalie system last year and some thought he may be the odd man out. With his dominant World Cup performance taking Europe to the finals, it is clear the Halak is the best man for the job. The Islanders need to find a way to unload either Greiss/Berube because it is important Halak continues as the number one guy going forward.
Not much has changed since last season. Yes they lost some key players and added some new faces but the team’s mentality is still the same. They are continuing to be patient with their young players and are waiting for them to take the next step. I believe the Isles are a top 6 forward away from Cup Contention. The defense could use another veteran in the top 4 but that cannot occur without trading someone. I believe the Isles will make the playoffs for the third consecutive year. I also believe they will top 100 points for the third straight year and will fall in the second round of the playoffs