Looking ahead at a potentially exciting 2021 season for the New York Islanders.
The New York Islanders are coming off a great – albeit interrupted – season that saw the team advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993.
They lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in Tampa but the Islanders’ performance in the bubble opened eyes across the league that they’re for real. It also opened the eyes of those in the room that they can compete with the best in the NHL.
The Islanders’ offense is as good as any when the forwards are clicking on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about the team during the offseason and in training camp.
Mathew Barzal is the face of this franchise right now, so the fact that he missed the first five days of training camp because he had yet to sign a new deal was concerning to many, but the 23-year-old is now locked down for the next three years and ready to continue being the team’s best forward.
Barzal finished last season third on the team in goals and first in assists and points. He was fourth on the team in point shares with six, good for second among forwards.
We all know how elite Barzal is on zone entry (he’s actually the best in the league in that regard) and he’ll continue to use that strength to the benefit of his teammates as well as himself while working to improve his scoring numbers.
It will be worth paying attention to Barzal on the power play, somewhere the Islanders have struggled to score as a team, and that doesn’t exclude Barzal. Having him lead that unit and produce there would take the team to an even higher level.
Recently, during training camp, head coach Barry Trotz said that he did Josh Bailey a disservice last season by shuffling him around so much and that he’s “found a home” as the team’s second line right winger.
Trotz says he did Josh Bailey a disservice by shuffling him around last season; has found a home with Nelson and Beauvillier. #Isles
— Brian Compton (@BComptonNHL) January 6, 2021
Fans have been wondering if Bailey would ever be able to have another 70-point season like he did in 2017 and while it is unlikely, he’s still capable of contributing as a top-six forward.
After all, his playoff contributions as an Islander shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially after he recorded 20 points in 22 postseason games last season. He was also second on the team in assists with 29 and tied for third in points with 43 in the regular season.
He hasn’t been able to drive much offense as of late, but the fact that he’ll finally have a stable role should improve that. Bailey is also the team’s worst defensive forward, and any changes he made to that part of his game will be worth paying attention to.
Left winger Anthony Beauvillier finally had the season we’d all been waiting for in 2019-20. He recorded a career-high 21 assists and 39 points, and did it in just 68 games.
He also had a very strong postseason, scoring nine goals, tying him for the team lead. Beauvillier is poised to have a breakout season, and that would surely make the Islanders’ second line one of the best in the league.
His excellent performance at training camp, especially in terms of goal scoring, is very promising.
Arthur Staple of The Athletic tweeted that it looks like Kieffer Bellows wouldn’t be making the opening night roster, but Trotz said on Tuesday afternoon that Bellows had a great camp and has, indeed, worked himself into the mix.
Waiver-eligible #Isles who will apparently be on the opening roster:
Michael Dal Colle
Dmytro Timashov (contract still not official)
Could still be a trade, but likely means Bellows/Wahlstrom/Koivula start the season off the roster.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) January 11, 2021
#Isles Barry Trotz says Kieffer Bellows has worked his way onto the opening night roster.
Also says Casey Cizikas is OK to play on Thursday in season opener.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 12, 2021
Bellows recorded three points in eight NHL games, all of which he played last season. The 22-year-old winger has looked good in camp and might see decent time as a third line winger.
Up next we have arguably the best fourth line center in hockey, Casey Cizikas. The anchor of the fourth line, Cizikas will look to continue forechecking and applying pressure at an elite rate.
Cizikas, who will be 30 in February, will be expected to stay healthy and contribute again this season as the leader of one of the best fourth lines in the NHL.
Cal Clutterbuck, another member of the infamous Islanders fourth line, also couldn’t stay healthy last season and will look to stay out of injury trouble this season. The right winger turned 33 in November.
The 24-year-old right winger Michael Dal Colle definitely hasn’t followed the career trajectory expected of a fifth overall pick. However, this might be the first time in his career that he’ll be able to play on a solid line as the Islanders’ third line LW.
At 6’3”, 200 lbs., Dal Colle brings size to the bottom six, which is interesting and could be helpful, but the hope is that he’s able to produce.
Dal Colle has just 17 points in 85 career games, but playing on a line that’s capable of being impactful should help him improve.
Jordan Eberle will return to serve as the Islanders’ number one right winger. Last season, the 30-year-old led the team in expected goal percentage but missed multiple games.
He’ll look to be able to stay on the ice this season and continue to provide offense, especially on the power play.
Left winger Ross Johnston wasn’t placed on waivers even though he was eligible, indicating that he’ll make the team’s opening day roster.
Standing at 6’5” and 235 lbs., Johnston brings size to the Islanders’ bottom six and will likely compete with Dal Colle for the third line left winger job.
The Islanders do have depth at the left wing position and not enough right wingers, so one of these guys might have to move to the other side.
On Monday, the Islanders placed Leo Komarov on waivers, but he cleared on Tuesday, and it’s likely that he’ll be with the team on opening night.
However, that will probably be a temporary move and Komarov will likely spend a good chunk of the year on the Islanders’ taxi squad as a depth option, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
When he does play, the soon-to-be 34-year-old center/winger will likely be featured on the team’s ambiguous third line.
To round out New York’s top line, we have captain Anders Lee. Lee tied his career-high in assists last season with 23, but had a down year in terms of goal-scoring, evident in his poor SH% (10.3).
Even so, he finished the season second in goals with 20 and tied for fourth in points with 43.
Lee, like many of his teammates, was poor on the power play, scoring just two goals and recording five assists on the man advantage. That’s something that he’ll hope to work on this season.
If Lee, who’s excellent at tipping pucks into the net, can get back to scoring more goals, the Islanders will be an even more significant threat, both at even strength and on the power play.
Matt Martin is another player who wasn’t signed until very recently, but the beloved Islander isn’t going anywhere, and that should be a good thing for the team.
Martin is the third member of New York’s excellent fourth line and is an incredibly effective enforcer.
Martin’s forecheck and ability to recover pucks are almost unmatched, and that’s what makes him so valuable to this team.
The 31-year-old doesn’t bring much offense to the table, but does enough to be important and effective. He did, however, score an impressive five goals during New York’s historic playoff run.
Second line center Brock Nelson was arguably the Islanders’ most impressive player last season and will look to do it again this year as one of the best 2Cs in the league on one of the best second lines in the league.
He, and his linemates in general, were great in training camp and another huge year from them is expected.
Last season, Nelson tied his career-highs in both goals and assists (26 and 28, respectively), and set a career-high in points with 54. Had it not been a shortened season, all those numbers would certainly have been higher.
Nelson led the team in goals, was third in assists, and was second in points. His 6.3 point shares were good for third on the team and first among forwards.
Nelson continued to impress in the playoffs, where he recorded nine goals and nine assists in 22 games. If the 29-year-old can duplicate what he did last year, and if his wingers, Beauvillier and Bailey, can have big years, the rest of the league is in trouble.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau was signed to a six-year deal upon being traded to the Islanders from the Ottawa Senators last season and immediately became one of the best bottom-six centers in all of hockey.
He only played in seven regular season games for the Islanders last year and scored a respectable yet unspectacular 11 points in 22 playoff games, but proved why the Islanders liked him enough to go out and trade for him.
Pageau is an effective two-way forward who plays elite defense. However, if his line is going to be impactful, he’ll need to be centering wingers with offensive prowess.
Unfortunately, it still isn’t clear which players will be featured on his wings, but if it’s guys like Dal Colle and Johnston, Pageau might not be as offensively powerful.
Lastly comes Dmytro Timashov, one of the most curious Islanders forwards. Timashov was traded to the Islanders from the Detroit Red Wings in December and will be entering just his second NHL season.
The 24-year-old was added for depth purposes and likely won’t be an everyday player, but it does look like he’s going to be on the opening night roster.
Timashov will likely be another player who bounces around between one of the third line winger positions and the team’s taxi squad.
20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom is another winger worth keeping an eye on. It doesn’t look like he’ll be making the opening night roster, but he was very impressive in camp and could find himself back in the NHL at some point this season.