Islanders’ Top-6 Forward Predictions for 2022-23

The New York Islanders are looking to bounce back next season after missing the playoffs in 2021-22 and the rebound starts with the offense improving. They scored only 2.79 goals per game last year and in Barry Trotz’s four years as head coach, the team failed to average over three goals per game in a season. Under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, the hope is that the forward unit turns a corner and is among the best in the NHL.

Related: 5 New York Islanders That Are Essential to 2022-23 Success

The top six in particular struggled last year, and finding the right line combinations for those two lines will be pivotal in the team’s success. The Islanders have a deep forward unit but finding the ideal combinations at the top is going to ultimately carry them this season. Along with my colleague Chris Hennessy, we projected the top-six and why certain combinations will not only lead to a big year but also be the catalysts in allowing the Islanders’ offense to thrive.

Chris Hennessy: Give Wahlstrom His Chance

The key for the offense is giving Oliver Wahlstrom his shot to make his mark right out of the gate. Since being selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he has only averaged 12:03 of ice time and has played a minimal role in the offense. However, despite little action, he has proven that he can be a reliable top-six forward, and specifically, be a scorer on the wing for top-line center Mathew Barzal.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Zach PariseMathew BarzalOliver Wahlstrom
Anders LeeBrock NelsonAnthony Beauvillier

These line combinations keep Zach Parise in the top six and considering the success he had playing on the same line as Barzal last year, it’s ideal to keep the two skaters together. He continues to add an experienced scoring presence and with Barzal creating scoring chances, he will remain a viable threat to find the back of the net as well.

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

The second line is similar to last year’s most productive line as it keeps Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier together. The three skaters formed the Islanders’ top unit last year, scoring 18 goals together, the most of any line on the team. With Nelson looking to build off his 30-goal season while Lee continues to finish scoring chances near the net – along with Beauvillier looking to bounce back – the combination is poised to succeed.

Mike Fink: Barzal & Nelson Find Shooters

The top priority for Lambert in his first year behind the bench is optimizing Barzal’s skillset. Last season, the Islanders saw their top center struggle and the absence of right-wing forward Jordan Eberle, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft, was felt. The bottom line is that Barzal needs a shooter on his line, someone that can take advantage of the open ice in the offensive zone and the scoring chances that he creates.

Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders will likely have multiple skaters rotating on Barzal’s line but in the end, Kyle Palmieri looks like the forward that can step up and play that sharp-shooting role. After struggling in the first half of last season, he became one of the team’s best forwards, scoring 14 of his 15 goals in the final 40 games played. With the veteran finding his shot, he started to pick apart opposing goaltenders, making him the ideal skater to play alongside Barzal.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Anders LeeBrock NelsonOliver Wahlstrom
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalKyle Palmieri

The other line has Nelson and Lee together, a connection that helped the offense improve in the second half of last season. But, why is Wahlstrom with the duo when he only spent minimal time with the two skaters last season? For starters, he rounds out the line as he not only earns a larger role in the forward unit but also plays his natural position of right wing. Moreover, the 22-year-old skater is hoping for a breakout year and playing alongside Nelson and Lee should allow him to optimize his skills both as a skater and goal scorer.

Oliver Wahlstrom New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The other question mark with this top six is Beauvillier, who took a step back last year playing on the same line as Barzal. This move would help the Islanders largely by putting him in a situation to succeed. Moving back to the left wing, the young forward can play in his natural position but more importantly, alongside Barzal, he can help the offense with his speed. Furthermore, the open ice in the offensive zone will allow the 25-year-old to find more open shots and become the playmaker on the other wing.

Other Notes on the Islanders’ Top Six

An underlying question about the Islanders’ top six is whether Barzal and Lee will move back to playing on the same line again. The two skaters formed unique chemistry under Trotz, with Barzal constantly finding the captain in the slot and near the net. However, since Lee’s 2020-21 season was cut short by a season-ending injury, the duo have failed to find that same connection, prompting a line change. There’s a strong possibility that the two will play on the same line next season and see time together on the power play but ahead of the upcoming season, it’s hard to see that happening.

Anders Lee New York Islanders
Anders Lee, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another interesting note from the above projections is Josh Bailey’s absence. Last season saw the veteran move out of the top six and provide a different role in the forward unit, becoming more of a shooter on a line led by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. As a result, he will likely continue to play a smaller role in the Islanders’ offense and not impact the top two lines.

The Islanders are going to shuffle their forward unit throughout the season. However, finding formidable lines, especially at the top, will be crucial to helping the offense rebound from last season. The top six, in particular, carry a lot of weight in the Islanders’ success and might determine if the team will make the playoffs in a tough Metropolitan Division.

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