With Barzal Closing in, Will Okposo or Nielsen be Voted off the Island?

There is no question since opening night of the 2015 draft that Matthew Barzal has surprised the New York Islanders many times in a good way. The Islanders’ front office, led by general manager Garth Snow, were very high on Barzal heading into the 2015 draft. However, it was hard to envision a scenario where Barzal would become an Islander after  Rd. 1 of the draft. Snow had a big chip he was willing to deal in top young defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart. Snow also knew that the Edmonton Oilers have wanted to acquire Reinhart ever since New York drafted him fourth overall in the 2012 draft. A great fit was in hand, but there was no way Barzal would slip to the Oilers’ second first-round pick, which was at the No. 16 selection, right? Snow had to feel that it was a long shot at best because other GMs would not let Barzal slip all the way to the 16th pick. As Gomer Pyle would say “surprise, surprise” and Barzal became part of the Islanders organization.

Dazzles in Training Camp

If you asked anybody who follows the Islanders as the team headed into training camp, the only talk of New York’s talented forward prospects making the team was Michael Dal Colle. As it was, the numbers did not add up for Dal Colle heading into camp, as the Isles are very deep at the forward position. However, that storyline never became a factor as Dal Colle showed that he needs more seasoning. There is nothing wrong with that and nobody should be down on Dal Colle’s future in the NHL. Everyone has to remember that he is just 19-years old. But nobody expected Matthew Barzal to last to the bitter end in training camp. The game plan for Barzal, in terms of his first NHL training camp, was to gain experience, as well as knowledge from the coaching staff and the current players. However, Barzal’s play stood out and as each day went by, the Islanders made moves sending players back to juniors or to their AHL affiliate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Word in camp was Barzal was impressing everybody. It wasn’t until after the last preseason game that Barzal was being sent back to his junior team, the Seattle Thunderbirds. Barzal left a mark and the impression that his NHL career in all likelihood will begin in October 2016. If the Islanders had an injury or two during camp to their forwards, Barzal’s NHL career probably would have started this October.

Pending Arrival Means Departure at Hand

Unless Barzal takes a step back with his game or an injury situation arises this year, you can write it down he will be on one of the Islanders top three lines come opening night next season. New York was potentially already dealing with a crowded house, because Dal Colle could also be ready for the NHL come opening night for the 2016-17, season as well. Both Dal Colle and Barzal have upside to be top-end NHL players and that means, bare minimum, either Kyle Okposo or Frans Nielsen are entering their last season as a member of the Islanders. This could also mean bad news for Josh Bailey in terms of his future with the Islanders. Bailey is signed through the 2017-18 season at a very friendly cap number of $3.3 million. Barzal’s training camp sent a message to the Islanders organization that he will be part of the NHL roster next season.

That brings us back to both Okposo and Nielsen, who are unrestricted free agents following this season. Both Barzal and Dal Colle are projected to be better than Okposo and Nielsen. Keep in mind, I am not saying the Isles will trade either Okposo or Nielsen during this season because of the pending arrival of their top young forwards. As I stated in my previous article, the Islanders are a now team and there are high expectations for this organization this coming season. Okposo and Nielsen will only be traded if it makes New York better today. If they both walk at the end of the year (for the Islanders’ sake, hopefully a successful season), so be it. The Islanders have one of the best prospect pipelines in the NHL, per Hockeys Future (ranked 2nd in their 2015 spring rankings), so the organization is in position to let both veteran players leave with no player assets in return. Remember, though, the Islanders would gain even more cap space, which is a major asset. Changes are coming in the near future for the Islanders and for the better.

Follow me on Twitter @ TheNLKing