In year number two of head coach Barry Trotz on Long Island, the New York Islanders have high expectations after reaching the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago. They have completely moved on from the loss of their captain, John Tavares, and surprised the NHL with their sweep over the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring.
Other than the losses of Robin Lehner and Valtteri Filppula and the additions of Derrick Brassard and Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders return nearly the same team in 2019-20. However, for this team to take the next step, they are going to need to get production from some of their younger players.
Josh Bailey Mathew Barzal Anders Lee
Anthony Beauvillier Brock Nelson Jordan Eberle
Andrew Ladd Derrick Brassard Leo Komarov
Matt Martin Casey Cizikas Cal Clutterbuck
Because the Islanders have a top-six that’s fairly cemented, it will likely take an injury for one of these forwards to come out of the lineup. Next, there’s the fourth line, which is considered one of the league’s best. All three on the line are important and can be used to kill penalties. That leaves the third line as the only realistic area of roster change with Tom Kuhnhackl or Ross Johnston likely to break into the lineup if Ladd isn’t ready to start the season after tearing his ACL late last season.
With the crowded roster, the Islanders need to either make a trade, which is unlikely, or sit one of their veterans. Ladd signed a seven-year deal back in 2016, but hasn’t lived up to his expectations yet. Making $5 million per year, he has scored 15 goals over the last two seasons. It is hard to imagine he gets back to his scoring 20 goals a year entering his age-33 season.
In the meantime, while Komarov provides the Islanders with a penalty killer, he really doesn’t bring much offense to the table for a third-line wing for a team needing offense. Also making over $3 million per year, it’s highly unlikely the Islanders sit him at all. In fact, he played in all 82 regular-season games last season and scored just 6 goals and 20 assists. So, to reiterate, unless a veteran is traded, the forward group is pretty well locked down. This is in spite of the team needing scoring and possessing talented prospects who are looking for NHL ice time.
Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle
Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle are two guys that the Islanders need to see not just in the lineup every night but see growth from on a consistent basis. Both were first-round draft picks who have spent brief stints in the NHL thus far but are going to need to find a way to break into the starting lineup though it is not going to be easy for them to do so.
While it is valuable having veterans on the team, the Islanders have a tendency to win when Ho-Sang is in the lineup. He played in 10 games last season and the Islanders went 9-1 in those games. Being a very skilled forward, he doesn’t necessarily have to play on the third line. The expectation when the Islanders drafted him was that he would be a top-six forward. With Barzal’s playmaking skills, these two players could make a lethal combination on the top line. Ho-Sang has shown the ability to score 76 goals in his three seasons in he OHL with both the Windsor Spitfires and Niagara IceDogs.
Dal Colle has been a frustrating prospect throughout his career with Islanders. Many people want to write him off after not producing in the minors, but when given his shot in the NHL, he has succeeded. He scored three goals in 28 games in a very limited role, but has yet to get a full-time chance. Most of his goals have come in close proximity to the net, much like Lee. If Dal Colle could produce half the amount of points Lee does, the Islanders will have something special. Dal Colle played a bit longer in the OHL than Ho-Sang and produced 155 goals in five seasons. He also scored 18 goals last season with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Recent Draft Picks
While the Islanders have had some draft picks turn out to become solid players, they have also had some top picks that have been disappointing. From 2010-2012, the Islanders drafted in the top-five three times and traded each one of their drafted players. Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart were all traded away and never lived up to their potential. Dal Colle was the fifth-overall pick in the draft as well back in 2014, so the Islanders need to put him in a spot to be successful, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
The Islanders, who’ve struggled for years keeping the puck out of the net, turned out to give up the least goals last season, but struggled to score especially against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the playoffs. The Islanders had just three players score 20 or more goals and one of those players was fourth liner Cizikas. While he may have added a bit more offense to his game, it is highly unlikely he will duplicate that while playing against the other team’s top center every night. Also, the Islanders are going to need their defensemen to put up a lot of points. The good news is Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock both seem to be guys who are capable of that, but they need Nick Leddy to bring a bit more offense.
Should the Islanders really struggle or get hit with a couple of bad injuries, they do have some other promising prospects in their system. Picking back-to-back at 11 and 12 in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Islanders selected Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson. Wahlstrom may need a bit more time before he is ready to go, but has always been a goalscorer throughout his career. For Dobson, it will likely be a numbers game for him as the Islanders already have seven defensemen fighting for six spots. While Dobson may be ready, the Islanders cannot keep him with the NHL team if he is not going to play regularly. He is much better off in Bridgeport with Sebastian Aho and Bode Wilde, who are also waiting for their chances as well.
The Islanders will have plenty of time to figure some of these decisions with the preseason just getting underway. The Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in their opening game and will play five more times before the games begin to count for real.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.