Without much ability to seek outside help, the New York Islanders are counting on their established players and prospects to make an impact next season. Most of their lineup will be the same as it was when they made it to the Eastern Conference Final this summer, but the bulk of the opportunity is in the bottom-six forward group. As it stands now, there is a spot at wing available on each of the bottom two lines, with many important decisions looming for the staff in order to fill the need.
There are many candidates to fill the gaps left by Matt Martin and Derick Brassard, who have yet to re-sign with the team or take their talents elsewhere. With stability at center with Casey Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the team will be looking for some wingers to step up and provide consistency in the bottom half of the lineup. These are just four of the several players who could see significant playing time upfront this season.
Michael Dal Colle
Michael Dal Colle has shown flashes of the talent that made him a top-five pick in the NHL Entry Draft, but he needs to produce consistently to remain in the lineup. He finished with a career-high 10 points in 53 regular-season games last season but failed to record a point in his three playoff appearances. He remained with the Islanders for his first full season since being called up. If Brassard is not brought back, Dal Colle could be a front-runner to step in as he played in Brassard’s spot on several occasions during this past season.
Dal Colle has played most often on a line with Pageau, who the Islanders acquired at the trade deadline this season and later extended through the 2025-26 season. His chemistry with Pageau and winger Leo Komarov improved as the trio played more together, and should continue to develop should Dal Colle win the job. He will certainly get his opportunities on the team’s third line but will be fending off veteran competition if he wants to stay there.
Ross Johnston would have a tremendous opportunity in front of him should Martin not return, but even if he does, the big man’s role should remain the same. Johnston is used very effectively by coach Barry Trotz when he feels the team needs a physical edge. He plays a similar game to Martin, so he should be the first to get an opportunity if his usual spot on the fourth line is left vacant. Johnston filled in admirably after injuries to both Martin and Cal Clutterbuck this past season, and would be the best fit to start on that fourth line if Martin is not back.
Johnston appeared in 32 games last season, the most of his young career, due to the team’s injury woes. His production has increased in each season, and his physical play has remained a vital part of his role. He tied his NHL career-high with three goals and set a new best with 78 penalty minutes. He should have no problem reaching 30 or more games of action next year even if Martin returns to one of the best fourth lines in hockey.
Now on the last year of his entry-level contract, Bellows will be looking to finally stick with the Islanders. He appeared in only eight NHL games last season but played well, for the most part, recording two goals and three points. Bellows earned himself a call-up due to a dramatic increase in his play after being scratched by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate.
He spent the majority of the season with the Sound Tigers, where he scored 22 goals in 52 games. A prolific goalscorer, Bellows will have to round out other aspects of his game to compete with Dal Colle and others for the open wing spot on the team’s third line. If he needs another year of seasoning, Bellows will look to have a big year in Bridgeport to earn himself a contract extension to remain in New York.
Wahlstrom was expected to be another dangerous scorer in the Islanders’ system when they made him a first-round pick in 2018. His first full season in Bridgeport this year saw him record just 10 goals in 45 games to go along with a minus-16 rating. In his nine-game stint with the Islanders this year, he was held off the score sheet, took two minor penalties, and had a minus-two rating. He has an outside shot of making the team from the start, but might be better served with another year in the minors to round out his game. He would certainly be one of the first call-ups should an injury occur.
He has shown flashes of his elite scoring ability in the past, especially during his time in the United States National Team Development Program. The Islanders are waiting for his skill to translate at the professional level, but there is hope he will break out soon. His 2020-21 season is off to a good start after the Islanders loaned him to AIK in Sweden. If he continues his early success in Europe and has a strong camp, expect Wahlstrom to make a push for a spot in the lineup.
Who Makes the Cut?
With two presumed open spots and four or more prime candidates, depth is certainly not an issue for the Isles. It will be interesting to watch battles happen during camp between these players and maybe even some surprise candidates. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Islanders rotate their lineup to deal with matchups. Coach Trotz has made a habit of tweaking his lines based on the team’s opponent. No matter who ends up in the lineup on opening night, the Islanders will have no shortage of options for their deep forward group.
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.