The New York Islanders have looked like one of the best teams in the East Division and arguably one of the top teams in the NHL, winning 19 of the first 29 games as the team currently sits in first place. Moreover, the Islanders are on a nine-game winning streak and halfway through the season, have yet to lose in regulation at home with a 12-0-2 record. The team has collectively shown little to no weakness in the season thus far and plenty of key players have made major contributions to the success thus far.
Most Valuable Player: Mat Barzal
It’s hard to argue against Barzal as the top player on the Islanders and constantly being the most valuable for the team. The 23-year-old continues to impress with highlight goals, game-changing speed, and the ability to create open shots for the top line as opponents constantly are drawn to him or caught watching in case Barzal can break free and thus losing their man on the ice. While the hockey world took notice of the incredible goal that was scored against the Sabres, any Islanders fan can tell that the impact has been prevalent the entire season.
Barzal leads a top line that will have to replace Anders Lee in the second half of the season but with the star forward, The Islanders searching for someone to play alongside him on the top line is a slightly easier task. He has scored nine goals and dished out 15 assists this season for a team-leading 24 points. In addition, the Islanders have been getting strong defensive play from their top player as the 23-year-old forward is constantly seen making plays to create opportunities on the offensive end.
Biggest Surprise: Nick Leddy
Many Islanders have been overachieving this season and there are plenty of players that can be considered the biggest surprise but it’s hard to deny that Leddy’s play has raised eyebrows this season. Paired with Scott Mayfield on the defensive unit, Leddy has not only stepped up to give the Islanders a great defense with three great pairings but also has made his mark on the offensive side with a team-leading 17 assists. The 29-year-old defenseman has constantly been a contributor on the backend of the defense but this season has been a breakout year, to say the least with the veteran defenseman on pace to have a career-high in assist despite the season only having 56 games.
Best First-Year Starter: Noah Dobson
The Islanders have gotten more than enough help from their rookies, helping not only with the transition from some of the departed veterans in the offseason but also fueling the strong start to the season. Oliver Wahlstrom has been great on the offensive side for the team while Ilya Sorokin has helped emerge as a great backup in the net but Dobson has been able to not only exceed expectations but help fuel the team’s best unit.
After Devon Toews was traded in the offseason and Johnny Boychuk being forced to step away from the game, it became clear that the Islanders were going to need the depth from their defense to step up. Dobson has played the majority of the season on the same shift as Andy Greene and has clearly absorbed a lot of the 38-year-old veteran’s advice. The 21-year-old defenseman is not only is playing well on the defensive end, blocking 33 shots and constantly creating opportunities for the offense but also contributing on the offensive end with three goals and nine assists on the season thus far.
Biggest Disappointment: Josh Bailey
Bailey has been a consistent double-digit goal scorer and viable skater on the second line for the Islanders. Unfortunately, this season he has been rather invisible on the second line or the occasional shift on the third line as he’s struggling to find space on the ice or crash the net with skaters like Brock Nelson or Anthony Beauvillier being able to constantly create scoring chances. The 31-year-old forward has 12 assists this season and has been able to transition into a solid distributor for the offense but with the scoring depth on the Islanders taking off, especially recently, the impact seems to not be there from the second-line scorer.
Best Value: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
In the middle of last season, the Islanders acquired Pageau from the Senators to add depth to the forwards unit. It’s safe to say that the trade has paid off with the third line center being a constant scoring threat and making the entire line better as he constantly creates open ice with the ability to crash the net. He has not only added depth to the offense making the Islanders a tough team to defend but has also made his impact on the defensive side, leading all forwards in blocked shots with 28 this season.
The Islanders have gotten great play from Pageau the entire season but arguably the best run from any player on the team came from the 28-year-old center when he scored five goals in four games. Along with being one of the best players on the team this season, He has been the most valuable to the team as he has added depth on both ends of the ice and can lead a scoring chance single-handedly at times as well.
What to Watch Out for in the Second Half of the Season
We already have seen some major concerns arise in the Islanders roster in the past few games. The team was riding a nine-game winning streak but with Lee suffering a season-ending injury, the overall offensive play is going to be something that the coaching staff will hope doesn’t decline and with the way the team has played thus far, it might be intriguing for the front office to make a move at the trade deadline to help put the roster over the top. The next few games are going to be pivotal as the Islanders are going to face the Flyers, Bruins, Penguins, and Capitals in the next 11 games.
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.