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The New York Islanders have one of the more complete rosters in the NHL and hope to build off of last season’s success, where the team reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal and hopefully win their first Cup since the 1982-83 NHL season. Heading into the 2021-22 NHL season, the Islanders have plenty of players that are necessary to the team’s success. Moreover, with consecutive Semifinal appearances, the future looks bright as a handful of players that have proven to the front office that they can build a Stanley Cup roster around them.
5. Brock Nelson
Brock Nelson has established himself as one of the best scorers on the Islanders and has given the forwards unit a strong later shift as he leads a line alongside forwards like Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, or Oliver Wahlstrom. This past season, Nelson scored a team-leading 18 goals and distributed 15 assists with great offensive zone instincts and carrying the puck effectively through the neutral zone to start up the offense.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nelson further cemented his status as one of the Islanders’ most valuable players as he scored seven goals in the playoffs, including three in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins and three against the Boston Bruins in the second round. Turning 30 years old in October, Nelson is going to remain an essential player for the Islanders that the front office will try to build around as he leads the scoring depth for the team and helps with line combinations on the forward unit with his control offensively.
4. Adam Pelech
Adam Pelech has emerged as arguably the top defenseman for the Islanders with his great overall play paying off in this offseason, as he earned an eight-year, $46 million contract, proving he is necessary for the team’s success. Pelech played on the top defensive pairing, where he averaged 21:03 minutes of ice time per game in the past season. But throughout the season, he was one of the more disciplined defensemen on the team and played exceptionally in the neutral zone and defensive zone, cutting off angles of opposing skaters to the net and creating turnovers to set up the offense.
Pelech isn’t going to provide a strong presence from the point on the offensive end of the ice, only scoring five goals in a regular season and 20 points once in his career in the 2018-19 NHL season. Rather, the 27-year-old defenseman provides excellent blue line discipline and keeps the puck in the offensive zone as the forwards develop scoring chances near the net. With the eight-year contract, Pelech will be an important defenseman for the unit as a whole and pair alongside any of the right-sided defensemen, which the Islanders have more than enough talent of heading into the upcoming season.
3. Anders Lee
Ander Lee wasn’t one of the biggest contributors this past season, missing the second half of the regular season and the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs with a torn ACL. Lee’s absence, however, only further reminded everyone of his value to the team, as the Islanders lost their captain and top-line scorer who scored 12 goals in 27 games in the 2020-21 NHL regular season and has scored 20 goals or more in five seasons in his career.
Moreover, once the Islanders captain went on the long-term injury list, the entire offensive unit struggled, as the top line failed to find a scorer who could finish scoring chances near the goal. The back end of the forwards unit also struggled, as head coach Barry Trotz was constantly shuffling his forwards unit in hopes of finding the right line combinations. For the upcoming season, the team hopes their 31-year-old captain can return to form and continue to provide a strong scoring presence for the top line.
2. Ryan Pulock
There is a legitimate debate about which of the Islanders defensemen is the best on the team. Is it Pelech or his partner Ryan Pulock? This past season, Pulock cemented his status as the team’s top defenseman, playing at an elite level in both the neutral and defensive zone. He particularly played well near the net as he disrupted opponents scoring chances and blocked 106 shots, second-most on the team behind Scott Mayfield. The 28-year-old defenseman led the Islanders skaters with 22:27 minutes average time on the ice per game and 4.4 defensive points shares last season. Along with Pelech, they might form the best defensive pairing in the NHL next season.
In the Stanely Cup Playoffs, the Islanders saw Pulock at a different level, leading the defensive unit, and oftentimes, leading the team to victory. Despite struggling from the point and on the offensive end of the ice, Pulock scored four goals in the playoffs, most among defensemen, and eliminated some of the best scorers in the game on the defensive end of the ice. The highlight for the veteran defenseman in the Stanley Cup Playoffs unquestionably came in Game 4 of the semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when the 28-year-old defenseman calmly blocked the last-second shot on the empty net to save the game and secure the 3-2 victory.
1. Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal continues to progress as one of the best young players in the NHL and has been the Islanders’ best player offensively. Last season, Barzal was second on the team in regulars season goals with 17 and assists with 28. But he led the roster in points with 45 and was the point leader in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 14 as he led a forwards unit and top line.
Barzal has been most impressive for the Islanders when it comes to creating scoring opportunities as the 24-year-old forward is one of the fastest skaters in the league and draws defensemen towards him to open up the ice for the rest of the shift. This past season, Barzal further improved by emerging as one of the better forward on the defensive end of the ice, playing the center of the defensive zone and allowing turnovers to become offensive opportunities. At 24 years old, the top-line forward is going to be the centerpiece of the Islanders’ future success as the team has a young scorer that is only continuing to improve who makes the entire shift better as a result of his playmaking ability.
Honorable Mentions: Semyon Varlamov & Ilya Sorokin
Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov was great in the net as the starter last season, with a .929 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average off of 1,020 shots faced. Likewise, the 25-year-old Ilya Sorokin exceeded expectations in his first season in the NHL to help give the team one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL last season. While Varlamov was essential to the team’s success last season, as they would not have played in their second consecutive semifinal series without him, at 33 years old, it’s unclear how he fits into the future plans on the team and if he is a necessary piece to build around.
Sorokin, meanwhile, is likely going to be the goaltender of the future for the Islanders. But after a season where he split the time in the net and was undisputedly the backup, starting only 22 games, the front office has yet to see if the young goaltender can emerge as the pivotal piece to build around.
Overall, the Islanders roster is more than talented enough to make another run at the Stanely Cup, with plenty of skaters being crucial for the team’s success next season. Whether it’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau as a later line center, adding scoring depth for the team, or Noah Dobson continuing to emerge as one of the Islanders’ best two-way defensemen at only 21 years old, the team has the depth and talented players that are poised to step up this upcoming season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November but has been a journalist for multiple blogs since the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season. While not following any specific team, Mike covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach.