It has certainly been another terrific season for the New York Islanders. Despite playing in one of the league’s toughest divisions, they are currently in first place. As the Islanders just passed the midway point of the season, let’s take a look at the first-half awards.
MVP: Mat Barzal
There are definitely multiple players worthy of the team MVP so far, but Mat Barzal has stood out in his fourth year in the NHL. He has 9 goals and 16 assists and seems to make an impact on every shift. Not only has Barzal been able to score, but he has recorded goals at crucial times.
Even after losing his left winger in Anders Lee, Barzal continues to pick up points. Kieffer Bellows had the first chance on the wing and scored a pair of goals playing with Barzal. The one area he needs to improve on is his discipline. He has a team-high 36 penalty minutes, though 10 of those came via a misconduct at the end of a game. Head coach Barry Trotz is not afraid to sit Barzal when he makes a mistake, but for the Islanders to continue their terrific season, New York’s young superstar needs to be on the ice.
Best Defenseman: Adam Pelech
Adam Pelech has truly grown into one of the top defensemen in the league. His chemistry with Ryan Pulock only continues to improve. The two are on the ice for 20-plus minutes every night and face off against the opposition’s top line. For Pelech, he is a team leader with a plus-12 rating and has significantly impacted the penalty kill.
Best Rookie: Oliver Wahlstrom
Both Oliver Wahlstrom and Ilya Sorokin have been incredible this season, but Wahlstrom’s play is starting to get attention throughout the league. After a brief stint in the NHL last season, he has taken off offensively as he has nine goals and seven assists.
Wahlstrom has scored big goals and even picked up his first career shootout goal to earn the Islanders a hard-fought win over the New Jersey Devils. His contributions on the power play have been pivotal in helping New York stay in the middle of the pack with the man advantage with his tremendous shot. Wahlstrom is establishing himself as one of the best rookies on the team and as a potential winner for the Calder Trophy. He is two goals back of Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild for most goals by a rookie.
Most Disappointing: Overtime Play
It has been a strong season for just about every player on the ice, but the one area the team has underachieved is in overtime. However, they have improved their play in their past two games. Through 34 games, the Islanders have already lost three games in overtime, including two in back-to-back games against the Flyers. New York also is 1-1 in shootouts but did not generate many quality scoring chances in the 3-on-3 until Anthony Beavullier scored against the Flyers Thursday night.
This all comes after the Islanders dropped five games in overtime in the playoffs last season. While the format is different, it is surprising to see New York struggle with all their options. Trotz has normally started Brock Nelson and later shifted Barzal onto the ice, hoping to catch the opposition on a change. In what is such a tight East Division, the Islanders are benefiting from picking up a point, but it is the extra one that can be the difference between finishing anywhere from first to fifth in the division.
Most Surprising: Noah Dobson
After appearing in only 34 regular-season games last season as a rookie and only making one postseason appearance, Noah Dobson has been instrumental this year. He developed chemistry with veteran defenseman Andy Greene and has been able to defend well and be the quarterback of the power play. Dobson has three goals already this season after only scoring one last season, and has nine points.
Unfortunately, Dobson has been out of the lineup as of late as he tested positive for COVID-19. That has let both Sebastian Aho and Thomas Hickey get a chance to play for the first time this season, but Dobson seems to have established himself into a solid defenseman in the NHL.
The Best Best Salary Cap Value: Ilya Sorokin
A backup goaltender doesn’t often make such an impact, but Ilya Sorokin has been sensational this season and is only making $2 million. He struggled in his first start but earned back-to-back shutouts for his first two wins of the season. He has only allowed more than three goals twice this year and provides New York with a terrific option on days where Semyon Varlamov is not available.
While many players have terrific individual seasons, the team’s most important award would be to make the playoffs for a third straight season and win a fifth Stanley Cup. There will be plenty of work to do to achieve that, but this group of players has shown that they can win.