Islanders: Evaluating Noah Dobson Through First 22 NHL Games

Heading into the 2019-20 season, Noah Dobson was seen as a mystery to New York Islanders fans. Since Dobson was ineligible to play in the American Hockey League, he either had to go back to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, or begin his first season in the NHL with the Islanders.

Considering that, in the 2018-19 season, the defenseman had 52 points in 56 regular-season games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Huskies, 29 more points in 20 playoff games with the Huskies, and was named MVP of the QMJHL playoffs after leading his team to the Memorial Cup (his second straight Memorial Cup), it seemed that there wasn’t much left to learn for Dobson in juniors.

Therefore, a difficult decision had to be made by management; should they send Dobson back to juniors, where he could potentially develop bad habits from not being challenged, or did they want to keep him on the main roster? Obviously, they chose to keep him with the Islanders. As a result of their decision, long-time Islander Thomas Hickey was waived and sent to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. This began Dobson’s NHL career.

Where Did Dobson Fit?

After Dobson made the roster, there was a lot questioning about how often he would get in the lineup throughout the season. Of course, this was because the Islanders had all six members of their strong 2018-19 defense-corps healthy. Although many fans assumed that Dobson would split time with veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk, it seemed as if head coach Barry Trotz wanted Dobson to do more learning than playing in his first season.

Johnny Boychuk (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As a result of how general manager Lou Lamoriello addressed Dobson ahead of training camp, his projected role didn’t come as much of a surprise to fans. In an interview with MSG Network, Lou responded to a question about Dobson’s role by saying that “the next step would best be the American Hockey League,” obviously that wasn’t possible for Dobson. Lou also mentioned that he felt there would be a rule change about AHL eligibility in the near future.

Dobson’s NHL Debut

On Oct. 8, 2019, Noah Dobson made his NHL debut against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Dobson only had to wait for the Islanders’ third game of the season to make his debut. In order for Dobson to make his debut, Boychuk was scratched for the first time in the season.

In the losing effort, Dobson was paired with veteran Nick Leddy, who plays a very similar game compared to the rookie. Dobson logged 18:50 of ice time, recorded his first career point by setting up a beautiful goal for Matt Martin, and gained a lot of experience. Another interesting note about his debut is that Dobson had more time on ice than Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. Not only is that surprising because it was his first game in the NHL, but also because the game was being played against McDavid, who had three assists in the contest.

Dobson’s Lack of Playing Time

After his debut, Dobson only started two more games in the month of October, which he had much less ice-time in. However, following an injury to Leddy, Dobson was able to play in three straight games against the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and Los Angeles Kings.

Nick Leddy Islanders
Nick Leddy – November 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although he didn’t have much time on ice in the three straight games he played in while Leddy was injured, Dobson was able to gain a lot of experience. In fact, Dobson sent four shots on goal in the three games, his first shots on net since his NHL debut.

After Leddy returned from injury, Dobson only slid into the lineup when someone was dealing with a minor injury or when Trotz felt Dobson deserved a chance to show off some skills that he learned in practice. Dobson ended up playing in only five more games before the new year.

Adam Pelech’s Injury

On Jan. 2, 2020, Adam Pelech sustained a season-ending injury during pregame warmups. While the Islanders have not confirmed exactly how Pelech injured his Achilles’ tendon, it has been assumed that he was injured while playing soccer with his teammates. Even though playing soccer as a pre-game warmup is a ritual around the league for many players, it must be kept in mind that it can lead to consequential injuries.

New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech
New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Once Pelech sustained his injury, it was made clear to Dobson that he’d have to step up and take Pelech’s spot for the rest of the season, assuming a trade wasn’t made for a defenseman. That night, the Islanders hosted the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum. In his first game filling in for Pelech, Dobson only logged 11:57 of ice time, which was his fewest amount of minutes in almost a month.

More Playing Time for Dobson

It seems as if the trend of Dobson getting limited ice-time correlates with how the team is performing. For example, when the Islanders lost against the Boston Bruins in a shootout on Jan. 11, Dobson only logged 11:36 on ice. However, when the Islanders lost to the New York Rangers 6-2 two nights later, Dobson logged a career-high 20:24 on ice. This goes to show that when the Islanders are in very close games, Trotz tends to stick with his veterans, but when the games aren’t too close, Dobson gets an abundance of ice-time.

Over the last 11 games, it looks like Dobson has gotten more and more comfortable in the NHL – he even scored his first career goal in the Islanders blowout of the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 14. In addition to scoring his first career goal, Dobson has become a staple on the power play. He adds a very big piece to the man advantage because of his strong skating and stickhandling. It’s starting to seem like Barry Trotz has some more trust in the youngster.

Through his first 22 games, Dobson has a total of five points, which puts him on an 82-game pace of 18 points. Considering that he’s a rookie defenseman, an 18-point full season pace isn’t something to complain about.

Although the Islanders are missing their top defenseman in Pelech, Dobson has stepped up in his absence. Dobson has showed the Islanders that he’s someone they can get excited about.