Piecing together the right mix of talent
This young squad made a good impression in last year’s playoffs. The young team took Pittsburgh to 7- a strong argument for the level of progression. Yet, it’s still early to tell if the young core can handle the 82 game work load and stay in the playoff hunt. It is also hard to believe that next season the Islanders have a full roster and over 15 million in cap space to work with. But that’s exactly what GM Garth Snow.He assembled a team that plays a fast paced style of hockey. They have a young core in their forward group, their defenseman are quickly becoming more NHL ready as seasons pass and the only area that needs fine tuning is goaltending.
John Tavares is an elite talent in the NHL; he makes the players around him better and will be the Isles’ leading scorer. Matt Moulson has developed a good bond with him and will complement his play. Brad Boyes will not be coming back however and the top line spot could be filled by Kyle Okposo. Playing with Tavares could be a sure way to put this 25 year old on the opposition watch list. Nino Niederreiter was exchanged to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck, One teammate that is happy to have Clutterbuck- a multiple league leader in hits, is Matt Martin, who led in that category last year. This amount of physicality can wear down the opposition and while having them in the lineup may not put pucks in the net, it will spark the team to score. It will be interesting to see Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the roster. A history of concussions makes him risky but he does have the ability and leadership skills to set up on the wing. Regular time on the second powerplay is possible for him this season. This season could mark the emergence of Ryan Strome, 5th overall selection in 2011, has been a force in the OHL and in the AHL recorded 7pts in 10gp. If he cracks the lineup he could do as well as take the #2 spot down the middle for the Isles who could use Frans Nielsen at the #3 spot giving them a legitimate depth at center ice. The Isles are ultimately counting on John Tavares to keep his elite production going while getting good secondary scoring. Having players like Nielsen contributing in a checking role will be essential this season
With the departure of Mark Streit the Isles lost their captain as well as a powerplay quarterback. His role on the powerplay will be replaced by 37 year old Lubomir Visnovsky. Although it is an asset to have scoring assistance from the blueline, the Isles hope the blueline holds the opposition. Last season, they finished 21st in the league in Goals Against per game. One of the players that Islanders goalies are enjoying having in front of them is Andrew Macdonald. Macdonald finished the last 2 seasons in the top 5 in blocked shots and logs the most time- on- ice on the roster ( 23:31/game), playing a vital role on the penalty kill and top line shutdown. The emergence of Travis Hamonic turned up many smiles as he tied for second in TOI at roughly 23min/game behind, he appeared in all 48 games this season and while his offensive ability was not a stand out, there’s hope that this season allows him to develop more at the NHL level.
Finishing in the top 10 in goals-for league-wide helped the Isles win games but goaltending is still an issue. 38 year old Evgeny Nabokov started in 41 of the 48 games and put together a .910sv% in a condensed schedule. His play dropped off in the playoffs, probably as a result of fatigue. If the Isles hadn’t been able to match the Penguins in goal scoring there would not have been a game 7. They will need to find a way to split games, or give the aging goalie time off. This is where 23 year old Kevin Poulin fits in. Although he played in a handful of games last season, he also has to improve on his sub .900sv% last season. Unfortunately, he has little NHL experience to fall back on. With a NHL third-most 18 back-to-back games, they’ll need a solid tandem to secure a playoff chase come spring.