Over the course of the season, all sports teams have surprise performers both that excite fans and at the same time disappoint them as well. The Islanders haven’t been an exception to that in their excellent first half as many players have surprised fans, both good and bad.
Strome Coming of Age
As I alluded to in a recent post, over the last few weeks fans have really gotten a chance to see Ryan Strome take the next step in his development as a player. This recent stretch for him really came out of nowhere and has probably been a surprise to people outside of Long Island who don’t follow the Islanders as closely as some other people do. Strome has displayed vision on the ice comparable to a veteran player, not one so young in his career as Strome is. Strome has also improved his two-way play as well leading to an increase in time on the penalty kill. It seems as though his line mate Anders Lee is rubbing off on him a little as Strome has started to go to the net a little more recently which paid off for him last week against the Penguins when he scored the Islanders second goal. To this point, Strome has 33 points in 46 games. He currently sits third on the team in points behind John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Strome is currently on pace for a 59 point campaign. Not a bad 1st full season in the NHL, and better than most fans and writers alike expected heading into the season.
Kulemin Making Garth Look Smart
After having yet another quiet July 1st, Garth Snow made his big moves on July 2nd as he signed Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin to matching 4 year contracts. Kulemins deal was worth a little over 4 million per season and was viewed suspiciously by some as Kulemin had just 20 points in 70 games for Toronto last season. It was also out of character for Garth to spend so much on a player with lackluster stats after being so frugal for so long. Well, to this point Kulemin is making Snow look pretty smart as through 46 games this season Kulemin has already matched his point total from last season and surpassed his goal total as well. In 70 games last season, Kulemin had just 9 goals and already this season he is up to 11. Kulemin has also brought good two way play to the team and fit the Islanders aggressive system very well.
After acquiring Jaroslav Halak early in the off-season, the Islanders knew they needed a backup to as Kevin Poulin wasn’t going to cut it after his struggles last season. On July 1st, the Islanders addressed that issue by bringing in Chad Johnson who was widely viewed as one of the top backup goalies available. Last season, his first full season in the NHL, Johnson was excellent for the Bruins. In 27 games, Johnson posted a 2.10 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Unfortunately for Johnson, that level of play hasn’t been able to follow him to Long Island where he has struggled for a majority of the season to this point. In just 13 starts for the Islanders this season, Johnson has posted a 3.38 GAA and a .870 save percentage. There have been times this season where it has been clear that Johnsons lackluster play has caused the coaching staff to lack some confidence in him. Johnson will be a key player for the Islanders in the second half as they look to give Halak some rest as they approach the playoffs.