The Islanders were dealt a pretty big blow yesterday with the announcement that forward Kyle Okposo would miss 6-8 weeks with an upper body injury. The team has shown great depth this year and this injury will really test that. Who needs to step up in Okposo’s absence?
Perhaps the biggest candidate for this role is Mikhail Grabovski. While his season has been marred somewhat by injuries, his time on the ice has still been a disappointment. To this point in the season, Grabovski has 14 points in 38 games. This puts Grabovski on pace for 27 points which is far below his career average. When he signed with the Islanders on July 2nd, Grabovski seemed like more of a safe bet with his contract versus that of Nikolay Kulemin. However, thus far this season it has been the other way around with Kulemin impressing and Grabovski being a disappointment. If Grabovski is able to play like the player the Islanders expected him to be when they signed him to a 4 year deal worth 20 million dollars on July 2nd, that will go a long way in holding down the fort until Okposo gets healthy.
Playing Ryan Strome on the first line has been something that has been talked about since before he even arrived in the NHL. Matter of fact, Craig Button, in Stromes draft year suggested the Islanders move Tavares to wing to make Strome the first line center. While that won’t happen, the idea of Strome on the first line has to interest the coaches tremendously now especially with Strome stepping up his play in the last month or so. Strome’s vision on the ice and his ability to create plays from nothing could prove to be a lethal combo alongside Tavares. Strome and Tavares are already familiar with each other as well as not only do they often play with one another in 4 on 4 situations but they also train with each other during the summer.
Prior to the break, Bailey had been doing something that he hadn’t done often in his career, produce in the middle of the season. Normally, Bailey would produce early in the season, and late in the season but not do much in the middle. His play of late has led to fans wondering if they had finally found a solution for the first line left-wing spot. Bailey had 6 points in the final 3 games leading into the all-star break, including 3 assists in Kyle Okposo’s 4 goal game against the Penguins on January 16. With the injury to Okposo, Bailey can’t fall back into his old ways of obscurity. He needs to continue to build on the play that he had prior to the all-star break. Much like Mikhail Grabovski, if Bailey is able to do this, that will go a long way to holding down the fort until Kyle Okposo recovers.
Who Should Take his Spot on Line 1?
From the moment it was announced that Okposo was injured, after the initial panic, fans wondered who would take Okposos spot alongside John Tavares. If practice yesterday was any indication, Mikhail Grabovski will be the first person to get an opportunity in that spot.
#Isles lines at today’s practice: Bailey-Tavares-Grabovski Lee-Nielsen-Strome Grabner-Nelson-Kulemin Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 26, 2015
While in the grand scheme Grabovskis success or lack thereof while on that line won’t have a great impact with him signed for another 3 seasons. It will have an impact on the rest of the season as sooner or later the team will have to start looking at playoff seeding. With that, if Grabovski isn’t producing his ice-time will reflect that. Ultimately, I can see Ryan Strome fitting in nicely in Okposo’s spot until he returns.