The New York Islanders had their 2022-23 season end in disappointment. They bounced back after missing the playoffs and earned the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with a 42-31-9 record. However, they were eliminated in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes in a six-game series where they looked overwhelmed and outmatched by the opposition.
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They need to have a strong offseason to not only return to the playoffs but get over the top and contend for the Stanley Cup. However, the Islanders also need players within the roster to step up and take on different roles in the upcoming season as well. The roster is good enough to make the playoffs but if some players are put in the right situation or overachieve, the Islanders can be Stanley Cup contenders next season.
Bo Horvat helped turn the Islanders’ season around and put them into the playoffs. Since he was acquired during the All-Star Break from the Vancouver Canucks, his great play across the board rounded out the Islanders and made them a wild card team. He centered the top line and while he didn’t open up the offense, he made the skaters around him better and was a notable contributor defensively.
It’s no secret that Horvat’s offensive production was a disappointment. He scored 31 goals and 23 assists with the Canucks but only seven goals and nine assists with the Islanders and only one goal and one assist in the first round, making him a non-factor in the series. He never found open ice and couldn’t generate shots on the net with the Islanders, and after signing an eight-year extension, there’s concern that he could fall off as a scorer despite being paid like one of the best in the game.
A big reason Horvat struggled was the absence of Mathew Barzal, the best passer and playmaker on the team who missed the second half of the season with a lower-body injury. Horvat was forced to be the primary puck handler and playmaker on the top line, a role he isn’t accustomed to being in. It made him a pass-first player and instead of finding open ice in the offensive zone, he was forced to look for open skaters.
Next year, Horvat needs to allow his linemates to handle the puck while he looks for open shots. Specifically, he needs to allow Barzal, who draws skaters to him with his speed, to create shooting lanes and find him in the offensive zone. Horvat has a great shot and can be the Islanders’ top goal scorer but he needs to look for open shots and fire the puck on the net.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau played alongside a surplus of forwards this season as he centered one of the depth lines in the forward unit. Throughout the season, his wingers included Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri, Hudson Fasching, Josh Bailey, and Simon Holmstrom. The shuffling of lines prevented Pageau from forming strong chemistry with any skaters in particular, causing the offense as a whole to struggle.
The mix of forwards forced Pageau to be a primary puck handler but also a pass-first player. While he had a strong season as a facilitator, distributing 27 assists which was fourth-most on the team, his scoring production was down. His 13 goals were the fewest since his 2016-17 season and at 30 years old, it’s possible that his best days as a goal scorer are behind him.
Pageau proved he can still be a reliable center in the Islanders’ offense, and next season he needs to once again step up as a shooter. The hope is that he’ll have the same forwards to work with all season but he needs to be willing to take more shots. He will remain a primary puck handler but he needs to be more aggressive and generate more shots on the net to add depth to the forward unit.
The “Identity Line” has been a staple of the Islanders for years. The fourth line, headlined by Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck gave the forward unit a strong forechecking and hard-hitting presence, allowing the Islanders to create turnovers in the offensive zone and stifle opposing offenses.
In the past two years, the fourth line has started to decline, becoming a slower, less effective one that is becoming a liability. Cizikas is 31 years old and scored six goals and 15 assists this season, but Martin is 33 and Clutterbuck is 35, and the two skaters combined for only 13 goals and 18 assists. Hudson Fasching signed a two-year extension this offseason and it’s time for him to become a regular on the fourth line.
Fasching was a pleasant surprise this season, establishing himself as a regular and scoring 10 goals and nine assists in 49 games. His defense and forechecking stood out the most, contributing 1.1 defensive point shares to give the Islanders a strong defensive presence on the wing. Next season, he needs to become a regular on the fourth line and slowly replace an aging Clutterbuck or Martin in that checking role.
The biggest and only move the Islanders made in the 2022 offseason was acquiring Alexander Romanov during the NHL Entry Draft. He gave the defense a young hard-hitting presence and became an integral part of the unit. Romanov had 4.4 defensive point shares, 129 blocked shots, and 198 hits and was one of the best skaters in the defensive zone throughout the season for the Islanders.
Romanov was impressive in his first season with the Islanders but he needs to take on a greater role on the defense in the upcoming season. Specifically, he needs to become a more active player in the offensive zone to help out a team that averaged only 2.95 goals per game. He has a great shot but rarely uses it and after scoring only two goals last season, he needs to start adding a spark to the offense from the point.
Along with improving offensively, Romanov needs to play more than 19:27 ice time and become a regular top-four defenseman. With Scott Mayfield heading to free agency, it’s possible he won’t be on the team next season and the Islanders will have to replace one of their reliable veterans. As a result, Romanov and the other young skaters on the Islanders’ defense will need to step up and fill the void left by Mayfield.
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The Islanders need some of their defensemen to step up on the power play to help out a unit that scored on only 15.77 percent of its opportunities. Whether it’s Noah Dobson creating at the blue line, Ryan Pulock firing shots on the net, or an under-the-radar defenseman becoming the playmaker the power-play unit needs, the Islanders need someone to step up.
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Oliver Wahlstrom will return to the lineup after missing most of the recent season with an injury. So far, the Islanders have only seen a small sample size from him, playing in only 161 games and scoring 32 goals and 29 assists. In the few games he’s played, he’s shown flashes of brilliance on the wing and particularly, a great shot that can put the offense over the top. He needs to play a full season and become the shooter the Islanders need in their top six.
The Islanders have the players in place to compete for the Stanley Cup next season. However, head coach Lane Lambert needs to put them in situations to succeed and some of the skaters need to adapt next year to round out the roster.