If the Eastern Conference runners-up from a season ago have one major hole that needs to be filled, it is supplemental scoring. The New York Islanders appear to have finally found a winning combination for their top-six forward group, even if they are inconsistent at times. The team needs to find a good combination for the rest of their forwards – the good news for the Islanders is that there are plenty of options to play on the wings next season.
With a good mix of veterans and young prospects, the team can use next season to figure out their best chances of making another strong playoff push. The possibility of expanded rosters could allow even more forwards to be available to the Islanders in what should be a very competitive division.
The Islanders’ top two lines should be exactly the same as they were at the end of their deep playoff run a season ago. Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee should return to the top line with Mathew Barzal once he gets his new deal. Lee, the Islanders captain and highest-paid player, posted his lowest goal total since 2015-16 last season but still has the ability to score 30-plus goals with Barzal on his line. Eberle struggled with consistency during the regular season, but impressed during the postseason and should be in good shape to produce again next year.
On the second line, wings Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier provide strong scoring support behind Barzal’s line. Playing with Brock Nelson, this line focuses a little bit more on the two-way game, with Bailey and Nelson helping the team defensively and on the penalty kill. Beauvillier, still only 23, is still developing and will be looking to build on his second straight campaign with 18 goals before becoming a restricted free agent next summer. With the top-six all figured out, the questions lie on the bottom two lines.
Despite not yet bringing back forwards Derick Brassard and Matt Martin, there are still a few veterans vying for spots in the bottom-six. The third and fourth lines are solidified by strong centers Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas, respectively, and who lands on their wings will be one of the biggest training camp developments.
The veteran with the best chance to have a significant role is Cal Clutterbuck. He and Martin have been staples on Cizikas’ fourth line for several years, and it would be surprising to see the veteran lose his role on that checking line to a younger player. Leo Komarov is also an option to earn a lineup spot, although his high cap hit and modest production relative to the price tag make it worth looking at some prospects to take his spot.
The Islanders could have as many as three former first-round picks attempting to crack the roster for next season. Depending on what the NHL decides as far as roster sizes, all three could find themselves in the lineup at some point.
Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom have both been talked about for some time as the team’s top prospects. Bellows is now 22 and was drafted back in 2016, so he is certainly feeling the pressure to crack the roster for good. He played his first eight NHL games last season and played well, but was sent back down to work on decreasing his turnovers. He has the potential to be a consistent goal-scorer, something he’s shown flashes of in the AHL, but he has yet to have it translate permanently in the pros.
Wahlstrom was a first-rounder in 2018, and now at age 20 is trying to build off his first professional season. He was held off the scoresheet in his nine games with the team last season but is off to a good start on his loan for the 2020-21 season. When he returns to North America for camp, translating the early success will be crucial for him earning a spot in the lineup.
Josh Ho-Sang could also push for a roster spot next season. The Islanders brought him back on a one-year deal after the forward has struggled to prove himself off the ice as well as on it. Now 24, Ho-Sang was drafted in 2014 along with Beauvillier but hasn’t been able to stay with the team for a variety of reasons. Originally sent down to work on his turnovers, Ho-Sang’s attitude and dedication to the team have since been cited as concerns as other forwards have claimed larger roles in his place.
If the team decides to go younger in an attempt to solidify its core moving forward, there are plenty of options to fill the void. No matter which direction the team elects to go, there are several options to join a deep forward group.