Without a significant acquisition through the first few weeks of the free agency period, the New York Islanders will be searching internally for production next season. There are some significant holes to fill, with several free agents not yet brought back and the recent trade of Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche.
Islanders fans and coaches alike will be hoping that several players can step up to continue the success the team experienced in the Toronto bubble this summer. Here’s a look at who should be feeling the pressure going into the 2020-21 season.
The anticipated arrival of goaltender Ilya Sorokin will finally happen next season. The Russian netminder signed a one-year entry-level contract in July, followed by an extension that runs through next season. The Islanders will have to pay their presumed goaltender of the future again next summer, and his price tag will be dependent on how he performs in North America.
A third-round pick in 2014, the Islanders are hoping that their patience with the KHL star will pay off next season. The question becomes, how well will his past dominance translate to the rigors of the NHL?
Perhaps no Islander has had a better offseason so far than Noah Dobson. After the trade of Devon Toews, general manager Lou Lamoriello made it clear that the move was possible because of the confidence the team has in the 20-year-old defenseman. It remains to be seen how much of the vacant ice time will be taken over by Dobson, but the availability of a top-six role gives him the potential for a breakout season.
Dobson’s performance next season will be crucial in both his development and his future with the team. With two years left on his entry-level contract, the former first-round pick will need to prove that he’s worth keeping around. An underwhelming performance this upcoming season could make the Islanders less inclined to extend him after his two years are up.
An important factor will be who Dobson plays with for the majority of his minutes during the 2020-21 season. After spending time on a pairing with veteran Andy Greene in the post-pause training camp and in his only playoff appearance, this pair looks to be the most likely should Greene return.
All signs are pointing to Greene returning to the Island, which would avoid putting Dobson on his weak side, something that caused the youngster’s play to falter in the past.
Bellows has been trying to become a regular in the NHL since the Islanders made him a first-round selection in the 2016 NHL draft. So far, all he has to show for it are eight games last season, albeit impressive ones. Aside from his brief stint with the Islanders, Bellows has found himself with AHL Bridgeport for the majority of his professional career, with numbers that don’t exactly drop jaws.
Bellows has scored goals, which was his noted strong skill coming out of the draft, but has otherwise struggled to a minus-36 rating through two seasons in the AHL. A strong training camp and a longer trial period with the big club should be the top priority for the young winger, who should be looking to increase his value before seeking a deal next summer.
Few Islanders have been scrutinized as much as Andrew Ladd has been during his time with the Islanders. Ladd signed with the Islanders in 2016 after several very productive seasons as the captain of the Winnipeg Jets but has yet to have the same impact wearing blue and orange. There are several forward spots available in the lineup, and Ladd will need to have a good showing in camp and the early season if he wants to earn one of them. This may be his last opportunity to earn a payday, as the end of his current deal with the Islanders could also be the end of his playing career.
The fact that Ladd is one of the top five highest-paid forwards on the team doesn’t help his case. He has reportedly been shopped around quite frequently this offseason and could become a buyout or trade candidate next offseason if he is still on the team by then. With new deals due for Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech, and Sorokin, cap relief could be found by getting Ladd’s contract out the door. Many forwards whose production has not met their price tag have been bought out and signed for fractions recently, and another poor season from Ladd could see him join the list.