The New York Islanders are within one point of a playoff spot, and they’re going to have to turn to their rookies to maintain pace in the Metropolitan Division.
Fans have blamed the defense and goaltending as the main issue plaguing the New York Islanders. While the Isles sit close to last in most defensive categories, including goals against (157), goals against per game (3.65) and shots allowed per game (33), it is not entirely on the back end.
Aside from John Tavares, the rest of the top line and rookie Mathew Barzal, the offense has also been struggling. What’s frustrating is that the first six players have scored a combined 95 goals. If the bottom two would chip in even just a little more, the Islanders would be fighting at the top of the division right now.
Unlike years past, the Islanders have struggled to find that depth scoring they once had. Of the Islanders 143 goals, only 29 have come from the bottom two offensive lines. Alan Quine is now the only forward that has yet to score a goal this season with Shane Prince netting his first in the Isles’ 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers.
Anders Lee, the Isles leading goal scorer, comes close to topping those six combined players with 25 goals of his own.
Perhaps the issue is predictability.
The bottom two lines lack creativity and speed. When he has space, Brock Nelson has one of the best wrist shots on the team. The problem is, it never comes when the Islanders need it the most. The rookies, especially Josh Ho-Sang, add that creativity and speed to the lines that need it most.
Ho-Sang helped Nelson early on by creating time and space for him by drawing the defenders away. While he may still be immature in the eyes of the organization, Ho-Sang is the Islanders most innovative young forward they’ve had in years, not including the captain, Tavares.
Both Ho-Sang’s strong suit and his downfall is that he tries to do too much at times. While he took the league by storm last year with unsuspecting bank passes and skating in literal circles around the defense, it gets old when the opposing players learn how to defend you. This led to turnovers and poor giveaways this season. Once Ho-Sang tames his decision making and makes the smart plays and fully matures, he will be one of the hardest wingers to defend in the league.
But what’s a winger without a strong center? Anthony Beauvillier could be that middle man that Ho-Sang needs. After all, Nelson was drafted as a winger, he was only playing center because he’s the best option for the staff. Beauvillier appears to be a young version of a potential Frans Nielsen. He has offensive capabilities while still playing a 200-foot game. His minus-nine rating does not do his game justice since he’s playing on a line with a struggling Nelson and an aging Jason Chimera.
Is Beauvillier physically ready to take on the forwards in the NHL? Hell no. For now, however, he has the speed to make a difference despite his lack of size. Beauvillier is also one of the better centermen the Islanders have. If the 20-year old can just increase his faceoff percentage from the dismal 40 percent right now, he could start his shift with puck possession. No one wants to start out chasing the puck.
Finally, winger Michael Dal Colle. Both the Islanders and the fans have waited for this kid, and he is finally getting his chance to make an impact. Dal Colle was called up on Thursday and made his debut in Saturday’s tilt against the cross-town rival New York Rangers.
Dal Colle was drafted at fifth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and was advertised as a high-offensive scoring winger. He was expected to be in the top six by now and is one year behind in his “NHL ETA” which, at the draft, was said to be the 2017 season. Now, in the 2018 season, ETAs don’t matter. It is about what Dal Colle can contribute right here and now. What the Islanders are looking for in this time of need is scoring. Whether Dal Colle will be in a top-six role or not is irrelevant. Wherever he lands, he needs to produce. For the sake of his reputation and the Islanders season, an immediate impact is imminent.
Maturity, puck possession and immediate results are what sets the Islanders apart from a season that fell apart before the All-Star break and a playoff push. Speed owns the league in this day and age and each of these three players can bring that.
The Metropolitan Division is better than ever. The younger teams are ahead of schedule, therefore the Islanders must not wait another second. What can help them are these rookies. The young guys bring an obscene amount of talent to the table. With a season like this, if they all produce, it will be near impossible to send them back down.