Islanders Need Mayfield to Embrace Leadership Role

It might come as a surprise to find out that Scott Mayfield is the oldest defenseman on the Islanders. At 29 years old, he isn’t seen as a veteran, but on the New York Islanders, he is one of the leaders of the defense and the team altogether.

The Islanders have been anchored by their defense in each of the last four seasons, allowing 2.82 goals per game or fewer every year. In each of those seasons, Mayfield was an integral part of the defensive unit, both as a top pairing defender and as a depth player. While Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee received a lot of the spotlight, especially when the Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in both 2020 and 2021, Mayfield was one of the under-the-radar contributors that helped carry the team.

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The Islanders’ defense is looking to have a big year and allow the team to bounce back after missing the playoffs last season. Mayfield will not only be an essential player in helping them bounce back, but he will also need to be the veteran presence on the defense, which is suddenly one of the younger units on the roster.

A Surprisingly Young Islanders Defense

The key players in the defense have been reliable contributors for multiple seasons. Adam Pelech has been a staple since the 2016-17 season, and Ryan Pulock has been since the 2015-16 season. Furthermore, both defensemen are in the prime of their careers, with Pelech being 28 years old and Pulock at 27. However, the defense is suddenly a young group that will heavily rely on the youthful presence this season rather than experience to help the team rebound.

Adam Pelech New York Islanders
Adam Pelech, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Noah Dobson, who had a breakout season last year with 13 goals, 38 assists, and 4.1 defensive point shares, is only 22 years old and still working on his play. Likewise, Alexander Romanov, who the team acquired from the Montreal Canadiens during the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, is only 22 but has a lot to work on, specifically his offensive zone skills. While Sebastian Aho is an older defenseman that can make the opening night roster at 26 years old, Robin Salo can round out the defense and give the Islanders three defensemen under 23 years old. Ultimately, the defense is younger, an intentional decision by the general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello as he hopes a re-tooled younger unit will be a better skating one that can elevate the team in the offensive zone.

This leaves Mayfield as the veteran of the group. Moreso than the other defenseman on the Islanders, he’s experienced the highs and lows over the past decade, from being on the doorstep of the Stanley Cup Final to the playoff absences that have resulted in Lane Lambert being the fourth head coach in Mayfield’s tenure. Entering the 2022-23 season, he’ll be the one to provide stability and consistency to a defense, that with a handful of younger players, can be inconsistent and struggle.

Mayfield’s Defense Pairing

One of the questions heading into the season is which defenseman will play the left side of Mayfield’s pair. The defense has that one missing piece, and until opening night, the spot is up for grabs between the younger skaters that spent last season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bridgeport Islanders. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the decision will require Mayfield to be a mentor and guide the younger pair, especially early in the season.

It’s a similar role to the one that Andy Greene had to start the 2020-21 season as he played alongside Dobson. Early on, Dobson’s head was spinning, and he needed the game to slow down to catch up with the speed and playmaking ability of the opponents. Likewise, he was missing assignments in the defensive zone, and being out of position cost the Islanders throughout the first few weeks of his first full year in the NHL. However, Greene helped him acclimate to the pro game as the season progressed and, ultimately, allowed him to be one of the Islanders’ best young defensemen heading into the upcoming season. Mayfield will be tasked with the same role, but he will also have to step up defensively to often compensate for the defense struggles of his partner as Greene did with Dobson.

Andy Greene New York Islanders
Andy Greene, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Mayfield is reliable and arguably strongest in the defensive zone. He’ll provide great instincts for his pair to mirror throughout the year as part of the process of becoming an NHL-level defenseman, specifically in the defensive zone. Furthermore, he will oftentimes need to account for the mistakes and issues on the other side of the ice, creating turnovers and limiting scoring chances for the opponent. However, if any defenseman on the Islanders can balance out these issues and avoid them becoming a liability, it’s Mayfield, making him an integral part of the team’s success next year.

No Greene, No Chara, No Problem

The defense last season wasn’t bad as much as it was one step behind. It didn’t lack experience or instinctual play. Instead, the Islanders lacked the skills that make a great defense what it is today, specifically speed, puck movement, and the ability to turn defense into instant offense. This offseason, Lamoriello didn’t re-sign both Greene and Zdeno Chara, the two oldest players on the team last year. While Chara retired this offseason, the choice to move on from him and Greene sent the message that the Islanders have moved on from that style of defense, one that was carried by the disciplined, veteran, and instinctive play.

Zdeno Chara New York Islanders
Zdeno Chara with the New York Islanders (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

The push for a younger and faster defense has also subtly made the Islanders bet on Mayfield. He is now the experienced defenseman that can lead the unit and, in particular, fill the void left by Chara and Greene. The Islanders can take a step back defensively. With their younger skaters allowing scoring chances on the rush and quick plays in the defensive zone, Mayfield being a reliable defenseman in the second and third pairings will prevent that from happening. Moreover, his ability to step up will allow the team to have one of the best defenses in the league, giving them an edge on a nightly basis.

The Pressure on Mayfield to Have a Big Year

While Mayfield has proven he is a key part of the defense, he is entering the final year of his five-year contract. This means he’ll be on the trade block, especially if he has a great season and the Islanders are struggling. A handful of teams that are looking to compete for the Stanley Cup will look to add a defenseman of Mayfield’s caliber at the trade deadline as a missing piece that can put the team over the top.

Scott Mayfield - Islanders
Scott Mayfield, New York Islanders, September 17, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, the contract year also makes this season a closing argument for whether Mayfield is part of the long-term plans for the Islanders. Is he an essential part of the roster? With the team investing heavily in the defensive unit, will there be room for him on the unit in the future? This year, Mayfield can cement his status with the team as a great skater and make one final convincing argument for Lamoriello to give him a long-term deal at the end of the season.

Mayfield has been one of the Islanders’ best players in recent years, especially on defense. However, as he enters his age 30 season, this is the year he can prove that he deserves to finish his career with the Islanders as well.

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