Kyle Okposo

Islanders Can Replace Nielsen and Okposo’s Offense In-House

If longtime Islanders Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo decide to leave the team via free agency, which certainly appears to be the case at this point, there are plenty of players on the team that collectively can pick up the slack on the scoresheet.

Combined, Nielsen and Okposo scored 42 goals and produced 116 points in 2016. Those numbers will get them solid returns in free agency, especially Okposo, who is considered a top-three forward. Nevertheless, considering how many Isles had sub-par offensive campaigns last year, it’s not impossible for the team to pick up the slack.

Despite scoring 26 goals last year, Brock Nelson is a player that is absolutely capable of more, especially considering his streakiness. Scoring only seven goals in his last 34 games, Nelson is a guy that should get to 30 goals next season if he’s consistent.

The same thing goes for Anders Lee, who started off incredibly slow in 2015-16, scoring just six goals in his first 47 games. A former 25-goal scorer, if Lee can get back to that and John Tavares can get his point production to around 90-95, where it should be for an elite player of his talent, the Isles are more than halfway to getting Okposo’s points back.

There’s also the X-factor in defenseman Ryan Pulock, who gives the Islanders another blueliner who can put the puck in the net. Replacing the aging Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait, he should be good for a dozen goals and 30-35 points.

Frans Nielsen
Frans Nielsen’s value to the Islanders is tough to measure, especially considering how versatile he is. Photo by Patrick Hickey Jr.- The Hockey Writers

Pulock should be a regular next season,” Islanders long-time play-by-play announcer and NHL Hall of Famer Jiggs McDonald told THW on Thursday. “His shot from the point, when converted on the power play, will be lethal.  He showed great poise and read when to jump in offensively like a seasoned pro.”

However, in the case of Nielsen, he’s a guy that does more than score. From killing penalties to playing the point on the power play, Nielsen is a valuable commodity.

His ability to play center or the wing as well as his shootout talent is one thing,” McDonald said. “His defensive abilities are another.”

Could Ryan Strome be the player the Islanders thought they were getting after his 17 goal, 50 point season in 2015? Able to play wing or center like Nielsen, if Strome diversifies his game by getting better in the face-off circle and gets back to 50 points, the potential loss of Okposo and Nielsen could be solved for the most part, even before the Islanders look for their replacements.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers, NHL, Hockey

Most Important Player for the 2015-16 Florida Panthers

Starting the 2015-16 National Hockey League season, which one player’s performance is most vital to the success of the Florida Panthers on the ice?

Some of the names that come to mind are Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell and Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers are determined to improve upon last season’s sixth place finish in the NHL’s Atlantic Division, which saw the Panthers miss the playoffs by seven points. The Panthers have made the playoffs only once since the 2000-01 season, so making the playoffs will be a huge challenge.

In 2014-15, Florida made significant progress over the previous season as the Panthers increased their point total by 25 points as they improved from 66 points two seasons ago to 91 points last season.

Offense

Offensively, Huberdeau led Florida with 54 points last season. Huberdeau is headed into his fourth season with the Panthers and the 2013 Calder Trophy winner signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract before the start of this season’s training camp. Huberdeau is expected to play on Florida’s top line with Jagr and Aleksander Barkov.

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonathan Huberdeau (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of Jagr, the Panthers acquired the 43-year-old in February 2015 and the NHL’s 4th all-time leading scorer with 1,802 points averaged nearly a point per game in 20 games with Florida last season.

While both Huberdeau and Jagr are important to Florida’s success this season, the Panthers have other forwards, such as Barkov, Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad, who can contribute points if either Huberdeau or Jagr do not produce as expected offensively.

Defense

On the blue line, Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell solidify the Panthers defense along with adding some offensive pop. Ekblad, who won the Calder Trophy last season led all Florida defensemen with 39 points last season and Campbell led all Panthers in time on ice last season, averaging over 23 minutes per game.

Ekblad and Campbell are expected to anchor the blue line and assist offensively, however, Florida can maintain to a certain level if the likes of Willie Mitchell, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and others are called upon to pick-up some of the slack if Ekblad or Campbell are injured or struggle.

Goaltending

After breaking down the importance of the top forwards and defensemen, it leaves one player to pinpoint as the most crucial player to the success of this year’s Panthers…goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The 36-year-old Luongo is entering his 16th NHL season. Last season, Luongo bounced back, going 28-19-12 with a 2.35 goals against average, after a pair of sub-par seasons and guided the 25-point improvement for the Panthers. In order for Florida to improve even more, Luongo must be terrific in net on a nightly basis, which will be tough to do as goalies tend to decline significantly in their mid-30s (see Curtis Joseph, Evgeni Nabokov, and Nikolai Khabibulin). Luongo is 10th all time in NHL wins for a goalie with 401, however, in order to accumulate those wins, he has played in 864 games, plus an additional 64 playoff games, which has taken a significant toll on Luongo.

If Luongo fails to play up to last season’s standard or gets injured, 30-year-old Al Montoya would be his replacement. Montoya, the highly touted goalie in the 2004 draft out of the University of Michigan was drafted 6th overall by the New York Rangers, has only played in 111 games spread out over parts of 6 NHL seasons. Only once has Montoya played in 30 or more games in an NHL season and Montoya has never played in the NHL playoffs. Last season as Luongo’s backup, Montoya had a 3.01 GAA and a mediocre save percentage of .892. Beyond Montoya, the Panthers have little depth at goalie, as Mike McKenna would presumably be next in line.

In order for Florida to have a genuine chance to make the playoffs, Luongo will need to play 55-65 games and play as well or slightly better than he did in 2014-15. If Luongo is unable to play at or above that same level as last season or becomes injured, it will be highly improbable for the Panthers to make the postseason for the second time since 2001 as Montoya is an efficient back-up goalie but has not shown the ability to perform at the level Luongo did last season over the course of an NHL season.

Therefore, Roberto Luongo is the player that is most critical to the success of the 2015-16 Florida Panthers.