Islanders Continue to Shuffle Middle-Six Forwards

With the New York Islanders riding a four-game winning streak, they’re not quite rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but head coach Barry Trotz continues to shuffle his middle-six forwards in the absence of Jordan Eberle. Tom Kuhnhackl, Michael Dal Colle, and Oliver Wahlstrom have made appearances next to Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey or Anthony Beauvillier without much success. Ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the beginning of three games in four nights for the Islanders before another long break, Trotz tried to find some chemistry beyond the first line.

Derick Brassard to the Wing

On the surface, this seems like a promotion for Brassard. However, his stats so far, even the less analytical ones, tell a different story. He is minus-5 on a team that ranks in the top-five in goals against. While this doesn’t bode well for the journeyman center, Trotz hasn’t lost faith in him.

“It’s a transitional period for him,” Trotz said after practice on Wednesday. “I think there’s another level of acceptance if you will, to fitting in, in terms of role. But he’s done it all with a great attitude, that starts everything. He’ll succeed.”

New York Islanders' Brock Nelson
New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, FIle)

While this could have just been for practice on Wednesday, perhaps the idea is to give him less responsibility defensively and, instead, give him more offensive-minded linemates to play with to spark his production. Nelson and Beauvillier are among the team leaders in points and playing with the puck in the offensive zone will help Brassard’s confidence moving forward. There’s still no timetable for Eberle’s return, so Brassard may get a couple of games or more on the second line, assuming there aren’t other changes to the lineup.

Casey Cizikas Is Back

Cizikas took part in Thursday’s morning skate, which may mean he is in tonight’s lineup. If this is the case, it also means more shuffling for Trotz as he continues to create lines without Leo Komarov, who was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 17 in order to activate Cizikas. With Cizikas back, it’s probable that Ross Johnston is scratched to get the fourth line back together. Both Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck struggled without Cizikas, so this should return some balance to the bottom half of the lineup.

Brassard moving to the wing may also mean that Cole Bardreau will center a line with Dal Colle and Wahlstrom. Kuhnhackl is another option on that line, but, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic, he stayed on for extra work this morning. He was out recently for maintenance and returned to practice yesterday.

Newsday’s Andrew Gross tweeted late this morning what he suspects tonight’s lineup will be:

Gross also reported that Trotz plans to use everyone in the lineup during the Islanders’ three games in four nights. Kunhakl could get back in the lineup either on the second or third line and Brassard might find his way back to the third line center. It also means Noah Dobson willt likely be back in the lineup after not playing since Oct. 11 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Oliver Wahlstrom’s Days Are Numbered

Despite a great first game or two, Wahlstrom has been regressing over the last few. He fell to the fourth line against the Columbus Blue Jackets and was a minus-2. In that same game, he played 10 minutes, the least he’s played since being called up to play against the St. Louis Blues. Like Dal Colle in his first few seasons, Wahlstrom still has a lot to learn about the pro game. He’s impressed the team and has the potential to be an effective NHLer, but he has some work to do in the AHL before making the jump to the Islanders full time.

Overall, the Islanders’ lineup looks ok. Despite the injuries, they have done fairly well over the last handful of games. Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello are learning more about their depth than they would have liked this early in the season, but they can be confident that the Bridgeport Sound Tigers coaching staff is teaching players the Islanders’ system and that those players are capable of filling in gaps when necessary. We’ll see how things shake out over the next three games, beginning on Thursday at the Coliseum.