The NHL season is just around the corner and the New York Islanders are entering the year with the hopes of bouncing back from 2021-22 and competing for the Stanley Cup. The offseason was a quiet one with minimal additions but the team is still entering the campaign with a deep roster that looks to be in the middle of a competitive Metropolitan Division. A big year from the Islanders would not only remind the league that they have one of the best rosters in the Eastern Conference but it would allow some players and coaches to possibly win awards at the end of the season.
While the Islanders don’t have many players that will end up as finalists for awards, much less win them, few could surprise the NHL world and take one home. While it’s unlikely that anyone on the Islanders will score enough goals or points to beat Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews for the Hart or Rocket Richard Trophy, there are a few awards that could be won by the team. So let’s look at who could put together a strong enough season to earn an NHL award.
Noah Dobson: Norris Trophy
It would be quite the leap from Noah Dobson to win the Norris. Not only would he need to build off his first breakout year in the NHL where he scored 13 goals and 38 assists but would need to surpass the level of reigning Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and the other elite defensemen in the game. Considering the competition for the trophy entering this season, it’s unlikely Dobson will win the award but not improbable, especially if he continues to make his mark as the best young defenseman on the Islanders.
To start, Dobson would need to improve his defensive game. Last season, he contributed 4.1 defensive point shares and 154 blocked shots along with an improved presence near the net to break up scoring chances and cross-ice passes. However, what ultimately will put his defensive skill set over the top is his puck handling ability and willingness to embrace the role as a primary puck handler following turnovers. It’s an attribute that will allow the league to see the value and overall production that he provides to the Islanders as he turns defense into instant offense.
Then there’s the continuation of a strong season in the offensive zone. Dobson was one of the bright spots from the blue line last season for the Islanders, scoring 13 goals while the rest of the defense combined for only 18. However, for him to enter the Norris conversation, he’ll need to build off last year and take on a greater role offensively. For Dobson, it means he has to not only become the primary playmaker from the point but also play a major role in the power play by both finding open skaters and generating shots on goal with more open ice.
Aatu Raty: Calder Trophy
There is a path for Aatu Raty to win the Calder Trophy but it’s a difficult one. His talent is unquestioned and he has the highest ceiling of the prospects in the Islanders’ farm system. The question is if he is going to be ready by the start of the season. If he’s not ready, when can he join the team and will he be able to play enough games to make his mark on the 2022-23 season? He is a potential star at the center position but still needs to refine his game and will likely spend time at the American Hockey League (AHL) level to help him develop.
If Raty joins the Islanders early on in the season, he can give the forward unit an edge. As a great skating center, he has proven both overseas and in the World Juniors that he can affect the game in a multitude of ways. On the Islanders, if he gets his chance to play his natural position, and has an exceptional year, he can win the Calder Trophy. While this season’s rookie class has some tough competition, including Owen Power and Shane Wright, a big year from the Finnish skater can put him on the map and ultimately give him the award.
Ilya Sorokin: Vezina Trophy
Ilya Sorokin emerged as the starting goaltender last season and had a remarkable season with a .925 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,520 shots. He’s continuing to develop and mature into an elite goaltender and in a full starting role, can be one of the few finalists and possibly win the Vezina Trophy.
The obstacle in Sorokin’s path oddly enough is veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Ideally, the Islanders will split starts between their two goaltenders to keep them both well-rested and sharp for the 82-game season. However, the more starts Varlamov receives, the less credit Sorokin will get for carrying the Islanders in the net. The lack of starts will hurt his cause but proving that he is elite on an improved team will remain a strong case for the 27-year-old goaltender. Last year, he started 52 games, the same number as Igor Shesterkin who won the award for the New York Rangers but on a significantly worse team. As a result, voters leaned toward Shesterkin as he was perceived as the one that carried the Rangers to the playoffs.
A lot of pieces are in place for Sorokin to take home the award. The Islanders are poised to rebound from last season’s disappointment and look like a more well-rounded team. The Islanders haven’t had a Vezina winner since Billy Smith in the 1981-82 season but if anyone can end the drought, it’s Sorokin.
Lane Lambert: Jack Adams Award
It might seem odd for a first-year head coach to win the Jack Adams Award but oftentimes new coaches or coaches in different settings are the winners at the end of the season. In 2018-19, Barry Trotz won it as he helped the Islanders reach the playoffs in a big turnaround season. The year before Trotz won, Gerrard Gallant won the award as he helped the Vegas Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. The bottom line is that if Lane Lambert, who was hired this offseason, makes a strong impression in a big year for the Islanders, he’ll be more than worthy of winning it as well.
Aside from the Islanders having a big season, Lambert will have to make a significant impact on the team and the voters as well. One of the things that will be closely monitored is whether the team looks different on the ice with him behind the bench compared to Trotz and his style. Likewise, Lambert’s influence on the Islanders will play a big role in whether he wins the Jack Adams Award. Trotz brought a defensive philosophy to the team that helped turn them into a Stanley Cup contender. Similarly, the ways that the team’s new head coach influences the roster will play a significant role in how he is viewed across the league and by the voters.
Other Islanders That Can Win Awards
While long shots to win the award, Ryan Pulock and Alexander Romanov could also have Norris Trophy-caliber seasons. Pulock is one of the best pure defensive defensemen in the NHL but hasn’t been a threat on the offensive end of the ice to be considered. If he taps into his shot from the blue line and becomes a reliable scorer for the Islanders, he may put himself on the ballot to win the award. Romanov, meanwhile, was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL Entry Draft and at 22 years old, is still working on his skill set, especially in the offensive zone.
The awards and trophies can highlight a strong season but the Islanders’ success will ultimately be measured in their ability to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs and win the Cup. The team was close in both 2020 and 2021 but came up short, losing to the Tampa Bay Lighting in the Stanley Cup Semifinal both years.
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Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.