Former Islanders’ Update: Okposo, Tavares and More

There have been many dark years on Long Island with the New York Islanders. With some poor head coaches as well as a bad general manager this decade, the Islanders hired both Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello to change the direction of the team.

The Isles have had a lot of players come through over the past 10 seasons. Some of these players will be remembered for what they did on the ice – others for what they dealt with off the ice, and, in the case of one player, the decision he made to leave the Islanders.

Let’s take a look at 10 former players this decade and see how they are performing for their new club.

Kyle Okposo

Since leaving the Islanders, Kyle Okposo has not had it easy. After suffering what could have been a career-ending injury with a detached retina with the Islanders, Okposo has had four concussions in the past two and a half years. He was most recently concussed after a collision with Ron Hainsey of the Ottawa Senators and has not been able to contribute much after signing a seven-year, $42-million contract with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016.

Kyle Okposo Sabres
Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres, Dec. 14, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In his time in Buffalo, Okposo has mostly played on the fourth line and has scored just 51 goals in a little under four seasons. While playing in New York, Okposo had three years of 20-plus goals and never scored fewer than 18 in a full season with the Islanders. 

Okposo is currently healthy with the Sabres, as the Islanders saw him on earlier this month in New York’s overtime win over Buffalo. This season, he has played in 27 of the 38 games and has four goals and seven points. With Buffalo out of their rebuild, Okposo may have another chance to play in the playoffs if he can remain healthy this season. The Sabres are currently five points back of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares

John Tavares is easily the most despised ex-Islander on this list. As many Islander fans say, it is not because of Tavares leaving New York, but it is how he did it when all along he said he wanted to stay. Tavares has established himself with the Toronto Maple Leafs like he was with the Islanders. He had a career season in goals with 47 and was named the 25th captain in Leafs history before their first game in 2019-20. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, this year hasn’t gone as well, as Tavares missed significant time with a broken finger. He has 14 goals and 29 points in 31 games played. Tavares’ team struggled at the beginning of the season, forcing the Maple Leafs to fire Mike Babcock. They promoted Sheldon Keefe from the Toronto Marlies, and, since then, his team has won 11 of 15 games.

Tavares has had some success against his former team, as he has visited the Coliseum three times. While the reception has not been great, he has scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period last April in a 2-1 Maple Leafs win. However, the Islanders are 3-1 against their former captain, as the next Islander superstar in Mat Barzal had a hat-trick in a 4-0 win in Toronto last season.

Frans Nielsen

After playing most of his career with New York, the Islanders lost Frans Nielsen to free agency the same year as Okposo. While Nielsen has had a great career, he has struggled this season playing for the Detroit Red Wings. His team ranks last in the league with 21 points. Nielsen has yet to get going this season through 33 games with no goals and three points.

Frans Nielsen Detroit Red Wings
Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With New York desperately needing a third-line center with Derick Brassard playing better on the wing, Nielsen could have been a potential trade target of the Islanders. However, with the Red Wings in a complete rebuild, Nielsen’s lack of productivity and expensive contract will likely keep him in Detroit for the remainder of his career despite the team potentially being busy come the trade deadline.

During his time with the Islanders, Nielsen was one of the team’s best penalty killers and the most skilled player in the league in shootouts with his patented backhand. He played with the Islanders for 10 years and had a career-high of 25 goals in the 2013-14 season. He made playoffs three times with the Islanders including their playoff series win against the Florida Panthers. He has yet to reach the postseason with Detroit in his three seasons after his club made the playoffs in 25 consecutive years before he was signed.

Travis Hamonic 

There are few players that competed as hard as Travis Hamonic did for the Islanders. They eventually traded him to the Calgary Flames, as Hamonic wanted to get closer to his hometown of Winnipeg, and earned himself a long term contract. The Islanders were able to receive a first-round pick where they selected Noah Dobson. They also got two second-round picks and turned them into center Ruslan Iskhakov and defensemen Samuel Bolduc.

This season, Hamonic missed six games with an injury after a career-year last season. He scored seven goals and was a plus-21, but it has been a bit of a drop-off this season, where he is currently at minus-five. Hamonic’s minutes are also down a bit, as the Flames rely heavily on Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin for big minutes. 

Travis Hamonic Flames
Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

During his tenure with the Islanders, Hamonic was terrific on and off the ice. While he didn’t always show up in the scoresheet, he would always be a fan-favorite. He had an organization called D-Partner, where he would meet a child that lost a parent at a young age and continued that into his tenure with the Flames. Hamonic lost his father, Gerald, when he was a child. He has several tattoos on his arm to celebrate his father’s life. He also had another family emergency while he was in Calgary with his daughter. He missed a pair of game last season to be with her after she became ill.

Michael Grabner

Despite his struggle to score on breakaways, Michael Grabner will always be one of the most exciting Islanders. After scoring 90 goals during his time on Long Island, Grabner remained in the Tri-State Area and played for the New York Rangers for close to two seasons before being dealt to the New Jersey Devils. He then signed a three-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes, his sixth different team in his career. 

Michael Grabner Arizona Coyotes
Michael Grabner, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season, Grabner has scored seven goals including one against the Islanders. It has been a bit surprising not to see Grabner have much success in 3-on-3 overtime with all of his speed. He has played in the bottom-six for much of his time with Arizona, but is now on a much-improved Coyotes team with their addition of Taylor Hall. It is nice to see Grabner back, as, like Okposo, he suffered a scary eye injury after a high stick last season and seems to be fully recovered. 

The Coyotes are looking to end a seven-year drought of missing the playoffs. Grabner has some experience in the playoffs with the Islanders as well as the Vancouver Canucks, Rangers and Devils. Grabner’s speed and knowledge of the game could be a big factor come playoff time in Arizona. 

Ryan Strome

Selected fifth overall by the Islanders, Ryan Strome just never seemed to work out on Long Island. His lasting legacy most likely is that he was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers for Jordan Eberle. Strome spent two seasons with Edmonton before heading back to New York to play for the Rangers.

Ryan Strome, New York Rangers
Ryan Strome, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With his two younger brothers drafted after him, Strome has finally started to play to his full potential. He had 33 points last season and is only three points shy of that mark this season. Strome has also been one of the players that has benefited the most from playing with Artemi Panarin. Since the two were put together, Strome has assisted on five of Panarin’s goals and has had success in overtime this season. 

The Islanders have yet to see Strome this season, as the two teams will meet three times within eight days in January. Strome had a goal last season in the Islanders 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden. 

Calvin de Haan

After going through many injuries early in his professional career, Calvin de Haan ended up being a very good defenseman with the Islanders. He played a lot with Hamonic in New York and earned himself a nice contract to play for the Carolina Hurricanes despite the depth of defensemen they had. 

The Islanders saw a lot of de Haan in the second round of the NHL playoffs where they were swept after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1. He finished last season with a goal and 13 assists and played in 12 playoff games. 

Chicago Blackhawks Calvin de Haan Zack Smith
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan celebrates with center Zack Smith (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

He was then dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason. He has missed the past two weeks with a groin injury sustained on Dec. 10 after just nine shifts. de Haan is hoping to be back in action for the Islanders only visit to Chicago on Friday.

Nino Niederreiter

Nino Niederreiter is just another draft pick to not work out with the Islanders. In this case, New York hardly gave their prospect any chance in the NHL and mostly played him on the fourth line with Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo. Niederreiter was later sent to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck after lots of talk about him requesting a trade. 

Like Strome, it took Niederreiter three teams to be successful. He was traded to the Hurricanes for Victor Rask and had a combined 25 goals with his two teams last season. He was also on the ice against the Islanders in the playoffs and had a goal in Game 3.

Carolina Hurricanes Nino Niederreiter
Carolina Hurricanes, Nino Niederreiter (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season, Niederreiter has scored five goals playing on the second line. He is currently playing with two stars in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and sees time on the second power-play unit. Niederreiter also has played extremely physical registering at least three hits in 10 games this season. 

Robin Lehner 

Despite only playing one season with the Islanders, Robin Lehner will always be remembered by the fans in New York after his well-documented struggle with his mental health. With the help of goaltending director Mitch Korn, Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist. After the Islanders were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract, Lehner signed with the Blackhawks over the summer. 

Other than some struggles in shootouts this season, Lehner is having another terrific season, as he currently ranks in the top ten in save percentage at .924. As he did with Thomas Greiss last season, he has split time with Corey Crawford in Chicago.

Anaheim Ducks Ryan Getzlaf
Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf shoots on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Overall, it has been another rough season for the Blackhawks. They are currently in last place in Central Division after their 7-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Lehner will become a free agent at the end of the season, where he will head back out onto the open market. At 28 years old, Lehner still has another chance at a long-term deal.

Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak has continued his great career after the Islanders, as he signed with the Boston Bruins to back up Tuukka Rask. He has had a really strong season and has won eight games already. He ranks tied for seventh place with Lehner in save percentage and has seen a lot of action in December. 

Boston Bruins Jaroslav Halak
Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Halak also had a shutout to begin his season against the Arizona Coyotes and then again in November against the Hurricanes. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. 

At the end of the season, the Islanders will have four players on their roster become unrestricted free agents. Hopefully, Lamoriello could work hard on bringing as many players back as the Islanders look to win their first Stanley Cup since 1983.