If longtime Islanders Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo decide to leave the team via free agency, which certainly appears to be the case at this point, there are plenty of players on the team that collectively can pick up the slack on the scoresheet.
Combined, Nielsen and Okposo scored 42 goals and produced 116 points in 2016. Those numbers will get them solid returns in free agency, especially Okposo, who is considered a top-three forward. Nevertheless, considering how many Isles had sub-par offensive campaigns last year, it’s not impossible for the team to pick up the slack.
Despite scoring 26 goals last year, Brock Nelson is a player that is absolutely capable of more, especially considering his streakiness. Scoring only seven goals in his last 34 games, Nelson is a guy that should get to 30 goals next season if he’s consistent.
The same thing goes for Anders Lee, who started off incredibly slow in 2015-16, scoring just six goals in his first 47 games. A former 25-goal scorer, if Lee can get back to that and John Tavares can get his point production to around 90-95, where it should be for an elite player of his talent, the Isles are more than halfway to getting Okposo’s points back.
There’s also the X-factor in defenseman Ryan Pulock, who gives the Islanders another blueliner who can put the puck in the net. Replacing the aging Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait, he should be good for a dozen goals and 30-35 points.
“Pulock should be a regular next season,” Islanders long-time play-by-play announcer and NHL Hall of Famer Jiggs McDonald told THW on Thursday. “His shot from the point, when converted on the power play, will be lethal. He showed great poise and read when to jump in offensively like a seasoned pro.”
However, in the case of Nielsen, he’s a guy that does more than score. From killing penalties to playing the point on the power play, Nielsen is a valuable commodity.
“His ability to play center or the wing as well as his shootout talent is one thing,” McDonald said. “His defensive abilities are another.”
Could Ryan Strome be the player the Islanders thought they were getting after his 17 goal, 50 point season in 2015? Able to play wing or center like Nielsen, if Strome diversifies his game by getting better in the face-off circle and gets back to 50 points, the potential loss of Okposo and Nielsen could be solved for the most part, even before the Islanders look for their replacements.
Over the past ten years as a working journalist, Patrick Hickey Jr. has covered the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as well as the Brooklyn Aces of the former EPHL, contributing pieces and/or holding Editorial positions at NBC, New York Sports Day, NY Sportscene Magazine and the New York Times. During that time, he has interviewed NHL stars the likes of Brendan Shanahan, Bernie Nicholls, Bob Probert, Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. He is also the first winner of the New York Islanders Blog of the Year Award, for his work on TheDriveForFive.com in 2008.