The New York Islanders are about as complete down the middle as any team in the NHL. Center depth is extremely important in the game today, and the Islanders have a clear advantage over many teams in this regard, even if there are holes elsewhere in the lineup.
Now entering the third year under Barry Trotz, the team understands the two-way emphasis of his system and the team-first mentality. The offensive production has gotten less flashy with each coming year under their new coach, but defensive structure has prevented easy chances for opponents. With a strong commitment at both ends of the rink, this center group is among the best in the league.
Barzal is coming off his third professional season and is already the face of the franchise and clear offensive catalyst. He showed this immediately upon arriving in the NHL when he led the team with 85 points in his 82-game rookie season. His scoring pace has slowed as he has adjusted to the more rounded system of Coach Trotz, but Barzal is still capable of making plays.
He has recorded at least 60 points in each of his three seasons and was one of the team’s most consistent scorers in this year’s playoffs, where he recorded 17 points in 22 games. The team’s focus is getting Barzal a new contract, one that will certainly make him one of the team’s highest-paid players. Once he gets his payday, he’ll undoubtedly return to his spot on the first line and second power-play unit, where his smooth skating and elite puck possession metrics let him create opportunities for his linemates.
Nelson has added a new level to his game under Trotz and is finally beginning to get the league-wide recognition he deserves. He put together his first two 50-point seasons under Trotz and is one of the most complete players on the team. Nelson plays in every situation, including his penalty-killing unit with Josh Bailey that put together some highlight-reel shorthanded goals.
Nelson is under contract for the foreseeable future and has developed great chemistry with his linemates on the team’s second unit. He is one of the longest-tenured Islanders and has become a great leader for a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Nelson has shown steady production recently, especially with the new coaching staff, and there’s no reason to doubt he can produce at this level consistently going forward.
The team made a splash at last year’s trade deadline, acquiring Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for draft assets. The trade has worked out so far, as Pageau was key for the Islanders as they made their way to the Eastern Conference Final this past season.
A full season of Pageau could lead to even more success for a team whose third line has always been its weakest link offensively. A strong performance in the faceoff dot and a solid two-way game make Pageau one of the game’s best third-line centers.
Cizikas has been in the middle of one of the best fourth lines in hockey for several years now. He knows his role as a forechecking, hard-working center on a line that brings energy and toughness to the Islanders lineup. Even if the team does not retain Matt Martin this offseason, Cizikas and linemate Cal Clutterbuck have tremendous chemistry on the fourth line and while killing penalties.
Cizikas is a fan-favorite and has been a consistent member of the bottom-six since claiming a spot in the lineup nine seasons ago. While not a tremendous point-producer like the other centers on his team, he has a high motor and creates turnovers when on the ice. His line has a reputation for scoring big goals in key moments, and his energy is a big reason why.
Should any of these players go down this season, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have a few players that could see playing time at the NHL level. Trotz should give the first opportunity to Otto Koivula, who is still only 22 and has already appeared in a dozen games for the Islanders. A fourth-round pick, Koivula has yet to record a point in the NHL but should be given the opportunity if there is a long-term need at center.
In the short term, the team has plugged holes with some of its many wingers, including Leo Komarov. It also has veterans in Cole Bardreau and Tanner Fritz in Bridgeport who could be options to fill-in if the need presents itself. The team is very solid at the NHL level and has plenty of options in the AHL system if needed.