The New York Islanders look to pick up where the team left off during the 2018-2019 campaign. During the first year of the Barry Trotz era in New York, the team ended with 103 points, which was second in the Metropolitan Division. The team entered the post-season with familiar playoff foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and swept the penguins while quieting Sidney Crosby. The team then took on the Carolina Hurricanes, a team which defeated the defending champion Washington Capitals, and they took down the Islanders in four. The team entered the summer with many questions relating to whether another captain would leave during free-agency, could the team attract a serious offensive threat like Artemi Panarin, and would the team re-sign Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner.
The Islanders retained captain Anders Lee to a seven-year, $49 million contract that will go through the 2025-2026 season, and will pay him an average annual value of $7 million. Last season, Lee led the Islanders with 28 goals, and contributed 51 points. The 29-year-old center, will be on the first line with 22-year-old Matt Barzal, and Jordan Eberle who also re-signed with the organization to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. That line provided 150 points on the season, and became a staple of consistency throughout the season with Barzal leading the team in points with 62.
The second line will feature Dal Colle-Nelson-Bailey, which will give the No. 5 overall 2014 draft pick, Michael Dal Colle an opportunity to finally live up to the hype. The 23-year-old was a point-per-game player last season in the AHL, where he scored 18 goals with 16 assists (34 points) in 34 games. However in the NHL-level, he has seven points (3 goals with 4 assists) in 32 career NHL games. He showed a lot of upside during training camp, to which Barry Trotz said, “I think Michael Dal Colle went from suspect back to prospect to pretty solid player.” Brock Nelson was second on the team in goals with 25, and added 28 assists in his sixth NHL season last year. The longest tenured Islander, Josh Bailey, who has been a member of the Isles since 2008, showed great vision last season with his 40 assists, but he also posted his best plus minus in his career with +8. The season prior, even though Bailey added 71 points, he was a liability on defense, with a -20 plus/minus.
Third & Fourth Line
Derick Brassard is featured on the third line, with Anthony Beauvillier and Leo Komarov. Trotz will look to use Brassard as a mentor for Beauvillier, who showed a lot of promise last season, contributing 28 points. The final line will be Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck, a line that is the heart of the Islanders, which also normally is the first line put out on the ice to set the tone of the game. This line has led the NHL in hits for the past four seasons. Cizikas has been banged up during training camp, so Kuhnhackl will fill in for Cizikas while he is out.
Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk
Pelech and Pulock compliment each other very well, and play similar games. Pulock has a terrific shot and can rip it from anywhere which makes him a dominant player on the powerplay. The Toews-Mayfield pairing should be a solid pairing for the team. Toews showed a lot last season and proved his worth. With Leddy and Boychuk, the Islanders have a strong understanding of what type of players each of them are, as Leddy is the quarterback of the powerplay for the team. Leddy struggled until the mid-point of the season, but ended the season very strong, and showed why he is one of the best lefty defensemen in all of hockey. Johnny Boychuk is also one of the best offensively minded defensemen in the league. In 2014 Garth Snow, the former Islanders general manager pulled off a trade the night before the NHL season began, his trades brought in both defensemen, Boychuk (from Boston) for two second round picks, and Nick Leddy (from Chicago) for two prospects and Anders Nilsson, who has a career 50-65 record with a 3.04 goals against average. The two defenseman have been the backbone of the Islanders, and have survived through three different coaching regimes.
This season’s netminders will be the question mark for the team. The questions will be which Thomas Greiss and which Semyon Varlamov will show up. Thomas Greiss was a solid goaltender in 2018-2019, featuring a 2.28 goals against average, compared to a 3.82 goals against average a season prior. Varlamov had a 2.87 goals against average, but in 2013, he posted a 2.41 goals against, in 63 games. Islanders Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn is a goalie whisperer, where he has led goalies to win three Vezina trophies, and four more finalists. Barry Trotz’s defensive minded approach will help the Islanders keep the puck out of the net and plays in favor of the goalies. The Islanders believe that he will work his magic on Varlamov, and turn him into another Vezina candidate.
Michael Dal Colle
Michael Dal Colle is a player who had a ton of upside when the Isles drafted him however he has failed to live up to the hype. Having only tallied seven points in his short NHL career, the team has seen a lot in him during training camp, and bumped him to the second line. Being put on a productive line with Josh Bailey, Dal Colle is someone who we should see a solid performance this season out of. Watch for the youngster to put up 30-35 points this season.
Players with the Most to Prove:
Semyon Varlamov/Lou Lamoriello
The goaltender was signed by the Islanders to a four-year/$20 million deal. He is replacing Vezina finalist Robin Lehner and Lou Lamoriello will have to answer questions about why he didn’t want to bring back Lehner if Varlamov struggles. Lehner signed a one year deal for $5 million with Chicago.
First Players for Call-Ups
Josh Ho-Sang was one of the final three players waived by the Islanders on Sunday. He cleared waivers, so if an offensive player goes down, the former first-rounder should be the player that moves up to fill in. He has struggled with controlling the puck, and with his costly turnovers however, but Ho-Sang should feel a spark after being waived and not being as productive as expected on his memorable draft night.
Also Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th pick from the 2018 draft, who as a kid made it to the ESPN Top Ten Plays for his puck handling skills, should be a player to watch. He attended Boston College last season, and didn’t play up to par with the Eagles, but had a solid camp. Watch for him if the Islanders start dealing with the injury bug or with a lack of offensive contribution, as Wahlstrom posted seven points in ten games in the AHL last year. During the 2017-2018 season, Wahstrom scored 94 points for the United Stated National U18 A team. If Beauvillier or Dal Colle struggle early on, don’t be surprised if Wahstrom gets put on the second line with Bailey.
Veteran defenseman Thomas Hickey was waived by the Islanders in a surprising move showing that it’s now Dobson’s job. If someone gets hurt, the 30-year-old has the experience to step up and be a quality defenseman. Last season Hickey had a +5 plus/minus, and in during the 2017 season, had a +20 plus/minus.
The Islanders surprised most in 2018 when they posted a better record than the prior season, even after their captain John Tavares left the Island. Barzal and Bailey stepped up significantly, and the Lamoriello/Trotz regime completely remodeled the Islanders and created a new culture. The Islanders should be a team that features a ton of depth, but still lacks some offensive production with the only addition on offense with Derick Brassard. If the Islanders can get the offensive production, and the goalies hold up they should go to the Eastern Conference finals.
2019-2020 Prediction 47-27-8, 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, playoff team