The New York Islanders’ third line has been a black hole, a revolving door, a who’s who of skaters since the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
In the summer of 2018, general manager Lou Lamoriello signed center, Valtteri Filppula, to a one-year contract to fill the hole that was created when former captain, John Tavares, left for Toronto. Throughout the 2018-19 season, Filppula was the only consistent player to the third line, but he opted to sign with his former team, the Detroit Red Wings, rather than stay on Long Island after his one-year deal expired.
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As a result, Lamoriello went to the free-agent market in the summer of 2019, and signed forward, Derick Brassard, to fill the void. However, it hasn’t quite worked out that way as Brassard has found himself bouncing around the lineup, finding more success on the wing.
The third line has seen many names in the past two seasons that include Michael Dal Colle, Tom Kuhnhackl, Andrew Ladd, Ross Johnston, Filppula, Leo Komarov, Brassard, Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, Josh Ho-Sang, and Otto Koivula, need we list more?
Lamoriello addressed the issue on Feb. 24, 2020, at the NHL Trade Deadline when he acquired center J.G. Pageau from the Ottawa Senators, and quickly signed him to a six-year extension.
Pageau’s Islander tenure was put on pause when the pandemic hit, as he was only able to play seven games with his new club, but the acquisition of the Ottawa native is finally the start of some consistency to the Islanders third line — something they have not had in almost two seasons.
The NHL is in the midst of its Phase 3 training camp, and are headed into Phase 4 next week when teams will travel to their hub cities of Toronto or Edmonton. The Islanders are certainly one of the many teams who benefit from this (sort of) mid-season training camp, giving guys like Adam Pelech time to recover from injury and Pageau time to build chemistry with his new teammates.
“I think this is actually the best thing for not only [Pageau], but anybody who got traded at the [NHL Trade Deadline]. It really helps guys to come together. They’re not going out, they’re staying together, practicing, they’re doing all the other things, and now we’re going to a hub city. If you ever wanted to get to learn about your teammates, the personalities, all that, the organization, there’s no better time than this time.”
When the Islanders hit the ice for their first in-game action in months, three out of the four forward lines are a lock. Head coach, Barry Trotz, is likely going to roll out forward lines that look like this:
Anders Lee – Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier- Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
??? – J.G. Pageau – ???
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck.
Pageau’s arrival is the start of consistency in a lineup that has seen far too much line-shuffling. However, it isn’t exactly clear who will be taking the ice with the newest Islander.
Throughout training camp, Brassard and Kuhnhackl have spent the majority of their time skating with Pageau. The trio is likely the third forward group heading into the qualifying round, as Brassard has proven to have success on the wing this season, and Kuhnhackl has been receiving praise from Trotz in camp.
“The Islanders cannot afford for that third line to be the black hole it was for much of the season, when Brassard, Josh Bailey or whoever stepped in to anchor a group that played barely 7-8 even-strength minutes a night.” (from ‘Why J-G Pageau, after a reset, might be the Islanders’ X-factor in the playoffs,’ The Athletic, 07/20/2020)
A solidified third line creates a domino effect throughout the top-nine forwards. Trotz has had to get creative with deviating ice time and on-ice responsibilities for the majority of the season, especially with the abundance of injuries.
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A fully healthy lineup, and the addition of Pageau, makes the third line becomes the X-factor for the Islanders moving forward. With the likelihood that Pageau centers Kuhnhackl and Brassard, Trotz will be icing a combined 189 games of playoff experience.
Not only does the trio bring the playoff experience, but there is a plethora of success there as well. Kuhnhackl was fortunate to lift two Stanley Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brassard appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-14 for the New York Rangers, and fell just short of capturing hockey’s ultimate prize to the Los Angeles Kings.
Pageau’s 12 playoff goals fall only behind teammates Johnny Boychuk, and Brassard. His biggest claim to fame is perhaps Game 2 of a six-game playoff series when the Senators took on the Rangers back in 2017. Pageau lit the lamp four times, including a double OT winner to secure the win over the Rangers.
Lamoriello gave up a big chunk of change in exchange for Pageau, but he may just be what the Islanders needed in order to put the team in favor of winning the play-in round against the Florida Panthers. With the ability to finally create an identity for the Islanders’ third line, Trotz now has the ability to roll out four consistent lines for the playoffs, and Pageau having a mini training camp under his belt is a huge bonus.
It’s entirely possible that a cap-strapped Islanders team may not feature Brassard and Kuhnhackl next season, and young guns such as Bellows and Wahlstrom could be your wingers for Pageau on the third line. Either way, the black hole between the second and fourth lines has finally evaporated, and consistency will reign giving the Islanders one of the deepest center cores in the league.
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Moving forward, the Islanders only have to address the one glaring need for scoring after the acquisition of Pageau, and recent signing of goaltender, Ilya Sorokin. A need that could put the Islanders at the top of the league for the foreseeable future.
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