After John Tavares left the New York Islanders for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hockey world basically buried the Isles. The Islanders can be one of this year’s surprise teams in the NHL.
Clearly, the New York Islanders lost one of their best players, as well as the face of the franchise in John Tavares this summer. While that psychological sting still exists, there are many things to feel good about regarding the Islanders.
Saying the Isles upgraded at the head coach and General Manager spots is a huge understatement. The Isles went from an inexperienced coach in Doug Weight to one of the game’s best in Barry Trotz. The Isles also went from the maligned Garth Snow to one of the all-time hockey GM’s in Lou Lamoriello.
Trotz and Lou will bring a much more disciplined system to the team on and off the ice.
Plenty of Scoring
Question is can either Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd or Jan Kovar fill that open spot on the top-six? Let’s not forget about Ryan Pulock, who was the Isles best player post-All-Star break and could challenge for 50 points this season.
The Isles blue line is way better than they performed last year. The forward group also contributed to the Isles defensive woes as well.
Johnny Boychuk can still be a solid second pairing defenseman. Adam Pelech was above average last year and continues to progress. Pulock emerged in the second-half and Thomas Hickey is a steady force who also brings leadership to the table. Scott Mayfield can be a real good third-pairing physical D-man and youngster Devon Toews has a chance to become a top-four defenseman in the near future.
The elephant in the room is Nick Leddy. While Leddy compiled 42 points, he was also an abysmal minus-42 last season.
With Trotz leadership and system expect him to extenuate the Isles defenseman strengths and limit their weaknesses.
Robin Lehner just turned 27 and the 6’4 goalie has a lot of ability. It’s now or never for the Swedish netminder to show the league he is a number one goaltender.
Thomas Greiss first two years as an Islander were really good and at times great. He was the main reason the Isles beat the Florida Panthers in the playoffs a couple of years ago. While he struggled last year, the players in front of him sure didn’t help much.
The Isles new goalie coaching staff lead by Mitch Korn looks like one of the top staffs at that position in the NHL.
The Isles finished sixth on the NHL power play rankings (23.2%) during the regular season. Having Pulock as a mainstay on the point and Lee stationed in front of the net with the extra man and the Isles could be even better this season.
A team cannot get any worse than the Islanders were last year in terms of killing penalties, as they finished dead last. There is only one place for them to go and that’s up. A new system by Trotz along with the additions of Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, and Tom Kuhnhackl will drastically help that unit.
The Isles struggled with the production from their bottom-six forwards last season. They have added a lot of depth to that group with the acquisitions of the free agent signings of Komarov – Filppula – Kuhnhackl, along with trading for Matt Martin.
Division Has Issues
Believe it or not most of the teams in the Metro have some serious questions to answer. Will the Capitals suffer from a Stanley Cup hangover especially with a new coaching staff? Columbus looks solid but how does the pending status of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky effect them?
The Flyers seem ready to take the next step but their goaltending is very shaky on multiple fronts. Carolina and the Rangers are taking a retool – step back approach entering this season. The Devils were huge overachievers last season and have to wonder with their roster if they can do it again.
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Don’t underestimate the fact everyone is predicting gloom and doom for the blue and orange as a big motivating factor for the Islanders. Boychuck made that point right after Tavares left for the Leafs.
Finally, the Islanders have some very talented youngsters who could see significant time with the big club this season. Toews was mentioned above but don’t forget Josh Ho-Sang, Kieffer Bellows, and Linus Soderstrom as well.
Remember, everyone said going into last season that the Devils were a sure-fire lottery team and they made the playoffs. Don’t write off the Isles.