The 2022-23 NHL season is around the corner and despite a quiet offseason, the New York Islanders enter the year with high expectations. The veteran-heavy roster built on good defense and great goaltending is looking to rebound from last season where they missed the playoffs but will have to do so in arguably the toughest division in the league. While the division has improved, the Islanders are still a playoff team and look to be competitive throughout the season and prove that last year was an outlier.
For the Islanders to have a successful season, some players will need to have breakout years and surprise fans and experts alike. Ahead of the season, bold predictions reflect how some of the players on the Islanders can not only have big years but put the team over the top. Furthermore, for the team to become Stanley Cup contenders, the roster as a whole has to look improved and blow the opposition away under first-year head coach Lane Lambert. With this in mind, let’s look at some bold predictions for the upcoming season.
Islanders Have Three 25-Plus Goalscorers
Last season, the forward unit was the weak link of the team, and specifically a handful of young forwards struggled or took a step back. Brock Nelson had a career year, scoring 37 goals while Anders Lee put together a strong bounce-back season after missing the second half of the 2020-21 season, adding 28 goals and 18 assists to the offense. However, Mathew Barzal took a step back with only 15 goals while he struggled to find reliable linemates throughout the season to complement his skill set. Furthermore, the offense altogether struggled and only two skaters scored 20 goals or more in a difficult season. This season, however, the Islanders’ offense will not only improve but the top six will stand out, notably with three skaters scoring 25 goals or more.
The three skaters that look poised to eclipse the 25-goal threshold are Nelson, Lee, and Barzal. Nelson might take a step back after a career year, but last season proved that he can be an elite, well-rounded center and continue to create goals as well as find the back of the net himself. Meanwhile, Lee is 32 years old but still looks to build off last season and continue to be the primary finisher in the offense, finding scoring opportunities from the slot and near the net.
It’s hard to see any of the three skaters scoring over 30 goals this season, but in a full 82-game season all three are more than capable of doing so. Furthermore, with Barzal playing in the final season of his contract and playing in a new system, this could be his career year. Not only can he score 25 goals this season, but if he starts playing more aggressively in the offensive zone and takes more shots, the Islanders can see him surpass 80 points in a season.
Oliver Wahlstrom Scores 20 Goals
Along the same theme of the top six stepping up, Oliver Wahlstrom is one of the X-Factors in the offense and on the Islanders’ roster altogether. With more ice time and alongside the correct center, he can become a strong skating forward and reliable sharpshooter on the wing to open up the offense. Last season, Wahlstrom had a disappointing year, scoring only 12 goals and nine assists but his minimal role — averaging only 12:04 ice time — not only contributed to his struggles but arguably resulted in head coach Barry Trotz’s firing.
Wahlstrom should see top-six minutes and specifically establish himself as a goalscorer for Barzal or Nelson, who both draw skaters and open up the ice in the offensive zone. In addition, if the 22-year-old forward taps into his accurate shot, he can find plenty of time on the power play with more scoring chances and space to generate shots on goal. A breakout season for Wahlstrom helps the offense and can see him scoring 20 goals for the first time in his career.
Anthony Beauvillier Becomes a Top-Line Forward
This season is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for Anthony Beauvillier who has had a roller-coaster career with the Islanders. After scoring the Game 6 game-winning goal of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal to close out the Nassau Coliseum in style, the expectation was for a step forward from the 24-year-old skater. Instead, Beauvillier took a step back and failed to find a role in the offense last season.
Beauvillier remains one of the most talented players on the team as a great skater and puck handler on the wing. In a bounce-back season, Beauvillier will both create more scoring chances and take more shots on the net, especially if he plays on the same line as Barzal or Nelson. Along with finding a good fit in the offense, he can become a top-line forward to help the Islanders have a big season. It’s unlikely he will be a 20-goal scorer, but on the top line he can become a valuable puck distributor and have a career high in assists as well as points.
Sorokin Wins Vezina Trophy
This might not be regarded as a bold prediction considering Ilya Sorokin has established himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. After becoming the starter for the Islanders last season, he is expected to take another step forward and build off a year where he had a .925 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,643 shots, making him one of the early goaltenders to watch to win the Vezina Trophy. However, after Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers won the award last season, he understandably received the spotlight and recognition as the league’s best young goaltender. As a result, this year looks to be the season that Sorokin not only outplays his rival but emerges as the league’s best goaltender.
Sorokin particularly stands out as one of the more athletic goaltenders in the league, allowing him to make big saves out of position and, oftentimes, highlight-reel ones as well. Last year, the Islanders saw his maturity in net and his ability to control the game rather than get overwhelmed by the speed of the opposition; in 52 starts, he became one of the team’s most valuable players. With Sorokin continuing to improve, this season is shaping up to be his finest and one where he not only carries the team but also finishes the year as a Vezina Trophy winner.
The only things preventing Sorokin from winning the award are workload and competition. Semyon Varlamov is still capable of being a starting goaltender at the NHL level and the Islanders will rotate their two goaltenders, keeping them both well-rested and fresh for an 82-game season. While the team can’t afford to overwork Sorokin, fewer starts will ultimately hurt his chances of winning. Moreover, the NHL has a surplus of talented goaltenders primed for big seasons, including Shesterkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Juuse Saros, all of whom can also have a career year and stand out for the voters.
Islanders Are Top Half in Both Goals For & Goals Against
The Islanders’ offense has been a weak link for years, scoring only 2.79 goals per game last season and averaging under 3.00 goals per game in each of the last four seasons. All eyes are on Lambert to see if he can turn things around on the offensive end and shape the Islanders into a well-rounded team. Finishing the season in the top half of the NHL in both goals for and goals against is improbable, especially if they thrive exclusively on one side of the ice, making the other end a liability. However, with the right line combinations and a healthy roster, this team can take a big step and prove to be one of the best all-around rosters in the league.
The question mark will be the offense, but the defensive unit looks to do its part, possibly finishing the season as one of the best. While a shift to an offensive mindset can hurt the Islanders’ defense, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech remain a great defensive pairing while Noah Dobson is continuing to progress as one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. There’s a possibility the unit takes a step back, but with the talent at the blue line, the team looks to continue to eliminate the best offenses in the game.
Furthermore, the defense will be helped out by elite goaltending. Sorokin has made his mark as one of the best young goaltenders but with Varlamov still playing at a high level, the Islanders might have one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL. It will help the team keep games low scoring and average one of the best goals against numbers. The only unit that the team is looking for a big leap is the forward unit. If the offense improves, the Islanders will end the year as a complete, Stanley Cup-caliber team.
Other Islanders’ Bold Predictions
The Islanders’ major acquisition in the offseason was acquiring Alexander Romanov during the NHL Entry Draft. The defenseman is expected to be a great partner for Dobson, playing the left side and adding some defensive stability. However, he isn’t going to add to the offensive end of the ice, per se. If Romanov works on his shot, he can become one of the Islanders’ scoring defensemen and have a breakout year from the point. The bold prediction is that he improves his puck handling and shooting skills to become a scoring threat as the season progresses and finishes the year with 10 goals.
Another bold prediction involves the prospects, specifically center Aatu Raty and defenseman Robin Salo. The two young players are unlikely to be on the opening night roster, but if the two join the Islanders at any point in the season, they could provide a boost to an otherwise older team. Raty, in particular, has a high ceiling that can make him a valuable contributor and a possible Calder Trophy finalist if he plays enough games and makes enough of an impact with the team.
The bold prediction that all fans are hoping for is that the Islanders win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1983. The team was on the doorstep in both the 2020 and 2021 Playoffs but came up short in both against the Tampa Bay Lightning. While last season displayed some of the glaring weaknesses of the roster, the team is talented enough to both reach the playoffs and once again make a run at the Cup.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.