The New York Islanders’ roster hasn’t changed much since last season, setting up low expectations for a team that some say overachieved in 2018-19. In order to have success this season, the Islanders need to find their scoring touch. Who can they depend on, who needs to step up, and whose production do they need to replace?
Raising the Bar
A season removed from being one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, the Islanders’ offense slowed down considerably last season. A mixture of a more defensive style of play and the absence of John Tavares and his play-making ability surely contributed to that drop. Even without a true superstar forward in the top-six, there are a number of highly skilled players, including Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle, that need to raise their level of play if the Islanders plan on being competitive.
Last season, Barzal dropped 23 points, Lee had 12 fewer goals, and Eberle failed to hit the 20 goal mark for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. If these three players can return to form, the Islanders have a much better chance of being a contender.
The Islanders will also depend on Anthony Beauvillier to raise the bar. He quietly racked up 20 and 18 goals over the last two seasons, respectively. To round out production in the top-six, and to make sure he continues to be included in that group, Beauvillier needs to have a big year, especially with players from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers starting to knock on the door.
Head coach Barry Trotz’s system doesn’t always promote high-octane scoring. However, last season Brock Nelson, motivated during a contract year, found a way to produce. His 25 goals and 53 points aren’t eye-popping by any means, but they were a significant increase from his 2017-18 season.
Only one goal off a career-high of 26, his point production set a new high while firmly establishing himself as a key part of the Islanders’ top-six. While Lee is the more notorious scorer of the two, Nelson needs to be a dependable 25-goal scorer in order for the Islanders to fight through a tough Metropolitan Division.
Casey Cizikas is part of the Islanders’ well-known and successful fourth line that also features Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Their job isn’t to score goals, but last season, Cizikas hit the back of the net 20 times, setting a career-high and providing the Islanders with sorely needed goal support. While Cizikas is one of my favorite Islanders, it’s hard to imagine he can sustain an 18% shooting percentage. It’s expected that number will drop to between 9.5% and 10%, but he could still contribute around 10 goals, which he’s done in the last five seasons.
To replace that bottom-six production, the Islanders are going to look to Derick Brassard. Only a season removed from a 21-goal, 46-point campaign, Brassard has the ability to inject some scoring onto the third line to balance the roster. His play-making ability could also pay dividends for his linemates, whoever they will be.
General manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz trust this roster and believe last season’s success will be a building block for growth. Their strong preseason has shown glimpses of what the team can be, but they’ll need to maintain this level against NHL competition moving forward. Can the Islanders find a way to score more goals when it counts this season?
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.