New York Islanders’ 2023-24 Lineup Projection

The 2023-24 NHL season is around the corner with opening night only a few weeks away. The New York Islanders had an uneventful offseason where they re-signed their veteran unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and didn’t bring in any new skaters in free agency. As a result, there aren’t a lot of question marks about the lineup and what it will look like.

Related: New York Islanders Season Preview Archives – The Hockey Writers

With the same roster from last season, the Islanders’ forward lines and defensive pairings will look familiar. Assuming head coach Lane Lambert doesn’t make any adjustments, they will field the team that reached the wild card a season ago and was eliminated in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders Handshake Line
Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders players shake hands after Game 6 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)

To be fair, there have been minor changes. Josh Bailey, who was a healthy scratch down the stretch last season was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, a move that can be labeled as addition by subtraction. Additionally, Zach Parise has yet to announce his return to the Islanders and similarly hasn’t announced his retirement, making his status unknown ahead of the upcoming season. Otherwise, the Islanders look like they will churn out a lineup that the fans have grown accustomed to.

The Chalk Lineup

The expectation is that Bo Horvat and Brock Nelson will lead the top-six lines while Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas will center the third and fourth lines respectively. It leaves the lineup looking all too familiar.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Anders LeeBo HorvatMatthew Barzal
Pierre EngvallBrock NelsonKyle Palmieri
Hudson FaschingJean-Gabriel PageauOliver Wahlstrom
Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

The only unique addition is Oliver Wahlstrom, who has been on the team for the past three seasons but only in a small sample size. He’s played in only 161 games in his career and last season was cut short due to an injury, making him the X factor of the forward unit. The defense meanwhile will field the same six skaters.

Left Side DefensemanRight Side Defenseman
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Alexander RomanovNoah Dobson
Sebastian AhoScott Mayfield

The players remain the same however, the line combinations can change if Lambert chooses to be creative with hopes of optimizing some of the skater’s skill sets. So, let’s look at what some of the unique combinations could look like.

Mike Fink: Identity Change & Top Six Chemistry

There are two burning questions regarding the Islanders’ forward unit. The first is what the top six will look like, specifically, who can optimize Horvat, Nelson, and Mathew Barzal’s skill sets. The other issue is how the Islanders will adapt their fourth line, which is starting to age and needs younger skaters to take on bigger roles.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Oliver WahlstromBo HorvatMathew Barzal
Anders LeeBrock NelsonWilliam Dufour / Hudson Fasching
Pierre EngvallJean-Gabriel PageauKyle Palmieri
Matt MartinCasey CizikasHudson Fasching / Cal Clutterbuck

The first noticeable difference in these lines is Wahlstrom playing on the top line. He’s played all over the forward unit in his young career but has rarely been provided the opportunity to play alongside elite skaters and in a big role as well. In his career, his average ice time is a mere 12:04, and last season it was only 12:10 before he was hurt. This season, he not only gets to play on the top line but will find plenty of open shots playing on the same line as Barzal, the team’s best playmaker, and Horvat, another dynamic shooter in the middle of the offense.

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

The top line makes Nelson’s line a headscratcher especially since he doesn’t have Kyle Palmieri and Pierre Engvall on his wings. Instead, he has Anders Lee playing alongside him and two skaters without a track record of finding the back of the net, William Dufour and Hudson Fasching. The Lee connection, which Lambert moved on from halfway through last season, makes sense since the two formed a dynamic pairing at the end of the 2021-22 season as they carried the offense. The reason Dufour takes the leap is because this might be the season he’s ready for the NHL. If that’s the case, he’ll either play on Nelson’s line or Pageau’s line. A top-six line will provide him with plenty of open looks on the net and allow him to become an elite goalscorer on the wing, something the Islanders desperately need. When he isn’t on the NHL roster, this is where Fasching can step up and round out the top two lines.

Ideally, Fasching plays alongside Pageau. He was a pleasant surprise last season and signed a two-year extension this offseason. While the checking forward should ideally play in the bottom-six, the other reason for him to move to the Nelson line is the connection that Palmieri and Engvall have. Simply, the two forwards can’t be broken up as they feed off each other’s skill sets and help open up the offense. Instead of moving only one of them to a top-six line, the Islanders will be best off keeping them together and allowing them to build on the chemistry that was formed halfway through last season.

Kyle Palmieri New York Islanders
Kyle Palmieri, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This leaves the Islanders to solve the other burning question in their forward unit which is how they will replace an aging fourth line. The trio of Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin will remain intact but throughout the season, Lambert will need to find younger skaters who can provide a defensive and checking presence. This is where Fasching comes back into play. When Dufour gets the call-up, instead of moving back to the Pageau line, Fasching will move to the fourth line and either split time with Clutterbuck or replace him altogether. This helps not only round out the forward unit but gives it a new look and allows the Islanders to look faster and more complete as a team.

Defensively, there isn’t much change and frankly, there shouldn’t be. The unit has been one of the best in the NHL in recent seasons and if the group remains healthy it will look to be great once again.

Left Side DefensemanRight Side Defenseman
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Alexander RomanovNoah Dobson
Sebastian AhoScott Mayfield

The argument can be made to flip Alexander Romanov and Sebastian Aho. Romanov, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens during the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, has been one of the best on the Islanders in the defensive zone. Last season he was constantly delivering strong hits, forcing turnovers, and blocking shots on the net, making him the type of defenseman who could thrive alongside Scott Mayfield. Likewise, Aho, who rounded out the unit last season, is a great skater who could complement Noah Dobson’s speed on the blue line. However, the chemistry that was formed last season helped propel the Islanders to the playoffs and the unit looks to remain the same this season.

Nick Rizzo: Bet On Engvall, Holmstrom & Gauthier

The Islanders invested in Engvall to become an integral part of the offense. He signed a seven-year deal this offseason and is expected to be a key skater in the top six. So, there’s a possibility Lambert takes advantage of his skillset as he highlights a new-look offense.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Pierre EngvallBo HorvatMathew Barzal
Anders LeeBrock NelsonOliver Wahlstrom
Hudson FaschingJean-Gabriel PageauKyle Palmieri
Simon HolmstromCasey CizikasJulien Gauthier

It seems like a bold move to have Engvall on the top line and it’s unlikely Lambert will go that far. However, his speed and shot from the wing make him a viable option to play alongside Barzal and Horvat. Engvall proved last season that he can find the back of the net with open looks in the offensive zone and there will be no shortage of those on the top line. Moving him up subsequently moves Lee to the Nelson line and creates a third line that can do it all. With Pageau, Fasching, and Palmieri playing on the same line, the Islanders will have speed, checking, and scoring when they are on the ice.

Pierre Engvall New York Islanders
Pierre Engvall, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The other big shift in the forward unit is having a different fourth line. Clutterbuck and Martin will likely play out their contracts, which expire after this season, but if they continue to decline or deal with injuries, they can both be replaced. The two skaters that stand out are Julien Gauthier and Simon Holmstrom. While Holmstrom was a liability last season, scoring only six goals and three assists in 50 games, the 22-year-old looks to improve this season and start to make his mark both offensively and defensively.

The defensive unit looks like it will be the same but if there is a creative route for the Islanders to take that could make the unit better, they should do it.

Left Side DefensemanRight Side Defenseman
Adam PelechAlexander Romanov
Noah DobsonRyan Pulock
Samuel BolducScott Mayfield

The idea of Pelech and Romanov on the same pair as well as Pulock being paired with Dobson might feel odd, especially since the combination puts two left-side defensemen together and then two right-side defensemen on the next pairing. However, this allows the Islanders to field two unique yet dynamic pairings.

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Romanov and Pelech would provide physicality to the top pairing. The Dobson-Pulock duo would allow Dobson to freestyle more and play more aggressively knowing he has a veteran skater to help him out and compensate for his mistakes. The Islanders would give their younger defensemen more opportunities to impact the game on the offensive end and emerge as viable scorers at the point.

Alexander Romanov New York Islanders
Alexander Romanov, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

To round out the unit, the Islanders would see Samuel Bolduc, who signed a two-year contract this summer, step up and play alongside Mayfield. Bolduc showed flashes last season and the younger defenseman is expected to take a big step forward this season and become a regular in the unit.

Justin Caron: Wahlstrom Moves Up, Everyone Else Moves Down

The first issue the Islanders address is where they play Wahlstrom. The most likely spot on the forward unit is alongside Pageau but if he is given the opportunity, he can and will thrive on the top line.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Oliver WahlstromBo HorvatMathew Barzal
Anders LeeBrock NelsonKyle Palmieri
Pierre EngvallJean-Gabriel PageauHudson Fasching
Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Wahlstrom moving up to the top line can be considered a surprise but one that makes sense for the 23-year-old forward. The trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the lineup is interesting and it will force Lambert to make tough decisions. The first one is moving Lee to the second line which could force the Islanders to break up the Palmieri-Engvall connection. Lee is starting to age but is still playing at a high level and without question, is still worthy of a top-six role. Alongside Nelson, he will continue to find scoring chances near the net and help carry the offense.

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

The next issue involves Engvall, who moves to the third line and won’t play alongside Palmieri or Nelson. After he was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, he moved into a top-six role and became one of the best forwards on the team, scoring five goals and four assists in only 18 games. While he’s the shooter who can thrive alongside Pageau, playing him on that line is an unknown and could cause a dropoff in production.

While the fourth line looks the same, there are a few players who can make the leap and replace Martin and Clutterbuck on the wings. Specifically, Gauthier, who was acquired this offseason from the Ottawa Senators, and Karson Kulman who signed a one-year deal, are both checking forwards who could add youth to the lineup.

The same three applies to the defense. There can be changes to the unit but it’s likely that the same pairings will be a pivotal part of the team’s success.

Left Side DefensemanRight Side Defenseman
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Alexander RomanovNoah Dobson
Sebastian AhoScott Mayfield

That being said, there’s a slight chance Bolduc or Robin Salo step up and take on a starting role this season. If they make the NHL roster, they’ll look to replace Aho on the left side but more likely fill in for an injury at some point.

What Can Change the Lineup?

The skaters that could make a significant difference are the prospects. Dufour can be NHL-ready by midseason and Matthew Maggio, who signed an entry-level contract in the offseason, could continue to rise as the Islanders’ top prospect. Dufour has a good shot and scoring presence on the wing while Maggio is a well-rounded forward who could emerge as one of the team’s elite young skaters.

There’s also an avenue for Barzal to center a line, something he’s done in the past but stopped doing when the Islanders acquired Horvat. If he starts to center a line again, the Islanders will lack a top line but add depth to their forward unit.

Bo Horvat New York Islanders
Bo Horvat, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the Islanders were quiet this offseason, there’s a possibility that general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello will make a splash this season and acquire an elite forward to strengthen the top six. The skater to watch is William Nylander but there are other pending free agents that the Islanders can look to add with the hopes of making a Cup run.

The lineup looks similar to last season’s. However, a lot can change from now until the season starts and during the season itself, a lot of movement is expected. Do you think the Islanders lineup will look similar or does Lambert have some tricks up his sleeve? Let us know in the comments below.

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