Islanders Have Options To Fill the Void on the Wing

The New York Islanders ended the 2022-23 season with a disappointment. They made the playoffs with a 42-31-9 record but got outmatched by the Carolina Hurricanes, who defeated them in a six-game series in Round 1.

Related: Islanders & Jets Can Be Ideal Trade Partners This Offseason

They enter the offseason with a deep and talented roster but also a handful of needs they must address. The First Round series particularly showed that the Islanders lack versatility, two-way defensemen, and wingers that can open up the offense. The wing position can become a weakness next season as both Zach Parise and Pierre Engvall are pending free agents, making the position one they must address this offseason.

Pierre Engvall New York Islanders
Pierre Engvall, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Islanders have a handful of options when it comes to finding viable skaters for the position. If general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello, who is on an expiring contract, signs an extension before the June 30 deadline, there’s one option that seems the most likely for the veteran executive. Lamoriello likes to keep the roster intact from one season to the next, and he’d likely do the same if he remains the GM for the Islanders, especially when it comes to the forward unit.

Islanders Re-Sign Engvall & Parise

Both players present a unique set of obstacles for being re-signed. However, both Engvall and Parise made the case to remain on the Islanders next year.

Parise is the oldest skater on the team, and he’ll be 39 years old by the time next season starts. However, he’s been one of the most valuable skaters on the Islanders and has shown no signs of slowing down. He scored 21 goals — third-most on the team — and 13 assists this season, and he has 36 goals and 33 assists since signing with the Islanders in the 2021 offseason. The question isn’t if Parise can still contribute or not. Rather, it’s if he wants to retire and end his career on a high note. If he is willing to play one more season, it will likely be on a team-friendly contract where he can still contribute to the offense but not take on a lot of the salary cap while doing so.

Zach Parise New York Islanders
Zach Parise, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Engvall was acquired at the trade deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in the few games he played, he proved to be a valuable part of the offense. He scored five goals and four assists in only 18 regular season games, and he formed a strong connection with Kyle Palmieri on the second line, with both skaters complementing each other’s skill sets. Engvall’s shot was a noticeable difference-maker for the offense, and with the Islanders lacking a shooting presence, he adds a much-needed boost. The question is what type of contract is he looking for and if Lamoriello sees him as an integral part of the team moving forward or just a short-term solution.

The Islanders would need to make some moves to fit both players under the salary cap. However, they can make it work, especially if Josh Bailey’s contract gets bought out. Ultimately, Engvall and Parise getting re-signed looks like the most likely scenario for the Islanders to address the wing position.

Islanders Can Target William Nylander

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in disarray recently. Kyle Dubas won’t return as the GM, and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team both in the immediate future and long term. The question for the Maple Leafs this offseason is if they want to move on from their core or if they want to keep it together for one more season.

William Nylander has one more year left on his contract, and along with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner, he has established himself as one of the core players on the Maple Leafs. He’s coming off a career year where he scored 40 goals and 47 assists, and at 27 years old, he’s entering the prime of his career. As an elite skater, he is one of the most valuable trade chips that the team has and can be traded this offseason if the Maple Leafs want to head in a different direction.

The Islanders would have to pull a lot of strings to acquire a forward of Nylander’s caliber. Along with sending multiple pieces in a trade, including future draft selections and top prospects, Lamoriello would have to open up enough cap space to fit his $6.9 million salary. However, the move would give the Islanders an elite playmaker on their wing that can put them over the top.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Nylander can play alongside Brock Nelson or Bo Horvat and not only set up scoring chances but find the back of the net himself with great scoring instincts. More importantly, he would add versatility to a forward unit that is lacking it, and his skillset complements the skaters in the Islanders’ top six. The addition of Nylander is unlikely and would require Lamoriello to give up a lot of future assets and possibly a young skater like Noah Dobson or Alexander Romanov to make it work. That said, the move would make the Islanders favorites in the Eastern Conference, as he’d make their offense one of the best in the league.

Free Agency

The Islanders don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, and Lamoriello typically avoids spending in free agency. In the 2022 offseason, he refused to sign Johnny Gaudreau or Nazem Kadri and instead signaled confidence in the roster, something he’s done often since becoming the GM in 2018. However, there are some under-the-radar players that the Islanders can sign who can provide a significant impact.

Max Domi is a journeyman who has spent eight years on six teams, and entering free agency, he’s looking for a long-term home. He’s notably impressed with the Dallas Stars since he joined them at the trade deadline and has become a valuable part of their offense in the playoffs, scoring three goals and eight assists. Domi is a pass-first player who can be a reliable skater on the wing that would add depth to the Islanders’ forward unit for multiple seasons.

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Another player that is thriving in the playoffs is Ivan Barbashev, who was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the deadline and has four goals and six assists. At 27, Barbashev is entering the best years of his career and would be a great addition to the Islanders’ top six as he can play all three positions.

Tomas Tatar is one of the older pending free agents, as he’ll turn 33 at the beginning of next season. However, he is still playing at a high level. Tatar scored 20 goals and 28 assists with the New Jersey Devils this season and can stay in the area on a short-term deal with the Islanders. Moreover, his scoring presence can add a spark to the offense, especially if he plays alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the third line.

Tomas Tatar New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders’ spending in free agency seems unlikely, especially with Lamoriello running the team. His recent history of avoiding big moves in the offseason suggests he’ll stay quiet this summer as well, but a valuable addition to the forward unit could be what set the Islanders up best for success.

Islanders Can Look to the Prospect Pool

The Islanders have one of the worst prospect pools in the league. There aren’t many elite players in the team’s pipeline, especially after Aatu Raty, their top prospect, was traded to Vancouver Canucks in the Horvat deal. While they don’t have the elite talent, the Islanders have some young players that can step up and become reliable options on the wing next season.

The big one is William Dufour, arguably the best prospect in the system. He impressed in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) in 2021-22 with 56 goals and 60 assists in only 66 games. But he struggled in 2022-23 in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bridgeport Islanders. At the end of the season, Dufour started to acclimate himself to the AHL game, and he finished the year with a respectable 21 goals and 27 assists as he started to take advantage of his shooting skill. The 21-year-old forward proved that he can eventually make an impact at the NHL level, and with a good shot on the wing, he can join the Islanders as early as the start of next season.

William Dufour New York Islanders
William Dufour, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The other big prospect for the Islanders is Matthew Maggio, who signed an entry-level contract after an impressive season with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He scored 54 goals and 57 assists in only 66 games and will start next season in AHL. While Maggio still has to develop before joining the NHL team, he already looks like a draft steal as a fifth-round selection in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

Simon Holmstrom is the other forward who can make a mark at the NHL level and take a big leap next year. He had a rookie season to forget, scoring only six goals and three assists in 50 games, but the past season allowed him to adjust to the pro game. After a rough first year, Holmstrom can come back this season and be a reliable contributor to the offense.

Other Options for the Islanders

The Islanders only have five draft selections and only one in the first three rounds in the upcoming draft. Lamoriello will have a tall task finding NHL talent, but in recent years, he’s had late-round success, especially when it comes to selecting forwards. In the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, he selected Dufour, and in the recent draft, he found Maggio in the fifth round.

The alternative option for the Islanders is to move around some skaters in the top six. Mathew Barzal moved to the wing after Horvat was acquired, and a similar adjustment can happen next season if needed. Coach Lane Lambert has proven he’s willing to move skaters around on the forward unit, and he’ll likely do the same next year, especially if the offense struggles.

The Islanders enter the offseason with a shortlist of positions that they must address. The wing is one of the biggest needs, and with the right move, they can make themselves bonafide playoff contenders next season.

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