The New York Islanders started off this season with some question marks and one of those focused on the talented prospect pool. Who would be the first call-up was up for debate early in September.
There are players that fanbases get excited about from the moment they’re drafted. That is the case for former 2018 first-round picks Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson. Both have been regarded as highly-skilled players in the draft class with some writers saying that Dobson is considered to be the best defenseman behind first-overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin.
In addition to the two big guns, 2014 fifth-overall pick, Michael Dal Colle, has made the roster out of training camp for the first time. His long-awaited arrival has finally come, and “MDC” is fitting in nicely with the bottom-six forward group.
These three young players have been steady in the 2019-20 season so far, and the Islanders have won nine games in a row for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
Trouble in Paradise
There’s a problem on the horizon, however. New York has a plethora of injuries right now. Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd and Casey Cizikas are only a few names that are out. When these players return, the Islanders staff will be forced to make some difficult decisions. Will general manager Lou Lamoriello trade someone? Will there be an unfortunate demotion similar to that of Thomas Hickey back in September? And what will head coach Barry Trotz do with the lineup card? In reality, none of the prospects deserve to be sent down.
Dobson is a rare breed of player. After winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in the Canadian Hockey League, he impressed at training camp and made the roster. This is also another situation where he wasn’t eligible to go to the American Hockey League due to his age. It was either the NHL or back to the CHL for a fourth year. His first NHL game was against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 8 and he registered his first career point.
Since then, Dobson has played just three more games after being a healthy scratch some nights and missing time due to illness, too. The important part is that Trotz is impressed with how the Prince Edward Island native handles himself.
Despite only having one point in four games and being a plus-two on the stat sheet, Dobson consistently gets more than 15 shifts in every game he plays.
More importantly, he does the little things right. Possession metrics like Corsi for percentage are in his favor. With his Corsi rating over 50 percent, that means New York has possession of the puck more than half of the time he’s on the ice.
Wahlstrom was expected to be a top-10 forward in the 2018 Draft, but fell to the Islanders at 11th overall. He started off the season with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, collecting three points in four games and was one of the call-ups due to injuries.
Since joining the Islanders, he too has bought into Trotz’s defense-first system. The offensive-minded foward has three blocked shots and nine hits in his seven games. He has yet to find the scoresheet but he’s getting consistent shifts, including power play time, which is a good sign. His 13 shot attempts show he is eager to find the back of the net.
Michael Dal Colle
Dal Colle is an interesting case. If you go by when he was drafted, he should have been an NHL regular by now. He was an All-Star in the AHL last season, which is important to know. It shows that he is finally ready to take that next step. He also put up seven points in 28 NHL games last season.
Early this season, he has been playing in a more defensive role in a defense-first system on lines that aren’t built to score. So take his 2 points in 12 games with a grain of salt.
Looking at his advanced metrics, he starts about 62 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. The team’s save percentage while he is on the ice is about 89 percent, which isn’t great. However, last season it was around 93 percent, which infers Trotz trusts him to get the job done. Do not expect Dal Colle to put up a ton of points, but expect to see him in the lineup regularly.
With the three big names playing their roles well, it will be hard to justify sending them down to Bridgeport. That said, when the injured players return, something’s got to give. Whether that something is a trade or a demotion is unknown. One thing that’s for sure is that it will not be an easy decision for Trotz or Lamoriello.