Are the Islanders a Sleeping Giant?

This time last year when talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning, most of the hockey world was saying this is a young team capable of big things. A year later, after coming two wins short of a championship, the Lightning are one of the favorites to win the Cup in 2015-16. The Islanders have a lot of similarities to Tampa, except they are even more below the radar than the Lightning were over a year ago. When an NHL fan thinks of the Islanders in the last number of years, what comes to mind is a team that has picked in the top five of the draft. Well, I am here to tell all the hockey world there is a sleeping giant in New York.

The Core

When you look at the Islanders roster, you see many talented young players up and down the lineup. At forward, New York is led by superstar John Tavares (age 24) who nearly won the scoring title last year. But the forward group doesn’t stop with the captain. This group includes Kyle Okposo (age 27), Ryan Strome (22), Anders Lee (25), Brock Nelson (23) and Josh Bailey (25). Throw in veterans Frans Nielsen, Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, as well as the best fourth line in hockey, the Isles are deep and dangerous. On defense, New York is anchored by Johnny Boychuk (age 31), Nick Leddy (24) and Travis Hamonic (25). The Isles are hoping talented youngster Calvin de Haan (24) and rookie Ryan Pulock (20) take a big step forward this year, as well. In between the pipes, New York is led by the very underrated Jaroslav Halak.

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The Cap

The Islanders are in one of the best positions in the league when it comes to the salary cap. New York has plenty of cap space to make significant moves. That is not the case for most contending teams in the NHL. In addition, the Islanders have locked up Boychuk and Leddy (signed for seven more years), Hamonic (signed for five more years), Lee (signed for four more years), while Tavares, Bailey, Hickey, Grabovski, Kulemin and Halak  are signed for three more years. New York will have nearly $4 million more in cap space at season’s end when depth players Michael Grabner’s and Brian Strait’s contracts end.

Pipeline

The Islanders have one of the best prospect pools in the league, according to Hockeys Future. Their spring rankings had the Islanders ranked second. That was before the June draft, where New York added two first round selections to their pipeline. The Islanders’ system is led by forwards Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. On defense, the Isles have Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield. In addition, New York has a wealth of secondary prospects. This summer ESPN Corey Pronman did a top-100 prospect list, which included six Islanders.

Many moons ago, when someone thought of the Islanders, the first thing that came to mind were Stanley Cups. In recent years, the hockey world has viewed the Islanders as a young team trying to turn the corner. This season, the Islanders will be zooming around that corner at top speed, and ready to be a top contender in the playoffs. I expect  to see major improvement from last season, which saw the Isles finish the regular season with 101 points before losing in the first round of the playoffs in seven games.

On a final note, like the entire Islanders family, I want to wish the Arbour family condolences on the passing of coaching legend Al Arbour.

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