The Islanders added valuable veteran depth during the offseason. Can their core make another run to the Eastern Conference Final — or even further?
After making it to the Eastern Conference Final for the second consecutive season, the New York Islanders are finally commanding the respect of the NHL and are forcing the league to recognize that they are one of the very best teams in the league.
Unfortunately, the Isles have met the eventual Stanley Cup-winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, during both conference finals appearances, but their window is still wide open.
The Islanders did lose their number one RW Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, but there’s a lot to be optimistic about.
Their captain, Anders Lee, will be back after missing most of the 2021 season and they locked up important players such as Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello was his usual — suspiciously quiet — for most of the offseason before announcing these signings as well as adding veteran scorer Zach Parise and the return of future Hall of Fame defenseman Zdeno Chara.
So what can we expect from the players that are returning as well as the “new” old guys?
The Islanders’ best player, Barzal should have another big season as the team’s top scorer. He won’t have Eberle on his wing, but he will have his Lee back by his side as well as the high-scoring winger Palmieri on his right.
If Palmieri does end up spending most of his season as the team’s number one RW, Barzal might have an assist-heavy year, since Palmieri is known for his goal-scoring.
Regardless of the situation, Barzal will put up many points at even-strength and on the man-advantage.
Barzal’s elite speed and the fact that he’s the best player in the league in terms of zone entries make him such an incredible playmaker that the Islanders benefit so greatly from. The face of the team will continue to be just that in 2021-22.
Bailey is entering his age-32 season, but we shouldn’t expect to see him slow down.
He scored eight goals and 35 points in 54 games last season and followed it up with an outstanding playoff campaign in which he scored a whopping six goals and 13 points in 19 games.
There was no guarantee that Bailey would return to the Islanders this season: New York did expose him in the expansion draft.
Seeing as Bailey is a key member of one of the best second lines in hockey, one that does big things for its team both during the regular season and the playoffs, Islanders fans are happy to see him stay.
Bailey isn’t going to score many goals, but many of his teammates will thanks to his great playmaking skills.
Beauvillier has been inconsistent thus far in his NHL career, something that was embodied by his 2021 season.
He appeared to finally break out during the 2020 playoffs and was a key reason why the Islanders were able to make it to the ECF for the first time in decades. He was expected to carry that elite play into 2021, but he was ice-cold to start last season.
However, he turned it around and averaged almost a point per game in the second half of the season and was fantastic in the playoffs, once again, on that dangerous “Killer B’s” line.
Because Beauvillier is so streaky, it might not be rational to expect him to string together an all-around excellent season.
However, he’ll get the job done and should definitely put together a respectable offensive season. Expectations will be even higher come the playoffs, though.
Arguably the best 4C in hockey, Cizikas is the heart of the Islanders’ “Identity Line”, which is probably the best fourth line in hockey and one that makes the Islanders so difficult to play against.
Cizikas will give you some offense, but he’s known for his physicality and toughness as well as his excellent defense. He’ll anchor down that fourth line yet again and will be expected to continue to play an important role on the penalty kill.
Fans sure are happy that Cizikas will be sticking around for another six years.
Another member of the “Identity Line”, Clutterbuck will likely have a similar season to his last. Clutterbuck’s skill set is quite similar to that of Cizikas: not much offense, physical, good defensively, and important on the penalty kill.
Clutterbuck is in the last year of his deal, so remaining healthy and playing the best hockey he can will be priorities for him as he looks to sign a contract to remain on the Island in the offseason.
Clutterbuck had an uncharacteristically good playoffs offensively and the question will be if he is capable of building on that in 2021-22.
Gabriel-Pageau is one of the best third-line centers in the NHL and has grown to become one of the Islanders’ most important players since coming over from the Ottawa Senators.
Pageau is used in all situations like no other: he’s so important on even-strength, gets it done on the penalty kill, and was one of the team’s best players on the power play in 2021. He also shows up often in the playoffs.
It isn’t irrational to believe that Pageau will see his point total go up this season. Playing on a consistent line with good goal-scorers and playmakers should result in him appearing on the scoresheet much more often.
When the Islanders’ number one LW and captain Lee was ruled out for the season in 2021, he was the team’s best player.
Because the Islanders are so deep and well-coached, they were able to put together a great season even without him, but Lee was missed.
Barzal could only do so much playing alongside Leo Komarov in Lee’s stead and the Islanders went out and got Kyle Palmieri, who possesses a similar skill-set to Lee’s, in order to fill the void.
It will be interesting to see how Lee does since he’s coming off such a serious injury (and surgery). However, such a great player shouldn’t need much time to get rolling again.
His leadership as well as pure talent and ability on the ice were missed and he’ll be welcomed back by all with open arms.
The third and final member of the Islanders’ fourth line, Martin will reprise his role as one of the grittiest enforcers in the game.
If he just continues to do what he does best- playing well along the boards, recording lots of hits, and just making it tough on his opponents, in general- the Islanders’ bottom-six should continue to thrive.
Two years ago, Nelson was one of the best second-line centers in the NHL. He cooled down last season, but still put up respectable numbers and was outstanding in the playoffs, as usual.
The Islanders really owe so much of their success in the playoffs to Nelson and his fellow “Killer B’s”.
In 2021-22, “Power Play Brock” should get a lot of time on the man-advantage and produce well there while being impactful at even-strength and doing very well in the faceoff circle.
If he can stay more consistent than usual and show us at least glimpses of the Nelson we saw two years ago, the Islanders should be in great shape.
Palmieri was uncharacteristically poor as a shooter and finisher last season. He struggled on a bad New Jersey Devils team to start the season and, unfortunately, a change of scenery didn’t do much good for him.
Palmieri scored just two goals and four points in 17 regular season games with the Islanders. However, he looked much better in the playoffs, scoring seven huge goals for them during their deep playoff run.
Palmieri re-signed to remain with the Islanders during the offseason and fans should expect the 30-year-old to have a rebound year.
He could see some time on the Islanders’ third line, but it seems like head coach Barry Trotz is going to want to see Palmieri on that elite top line.
Because Palmieri will be playing alongside two elite goalscorers in Lee and Barzal, he might have fewer goals and more assists than usual, but a marked improvement in his play should be expected.
The first new face we’re getting to is Parise. At 37 years old, Parise is well-past his prime and is coming off the worst season of his career.
However, considering the fact that he scored an impressive 25 goals and 46 points just the season before, it’s fair to say that he should rebound.
Parise is a poor defender so fans shouldn’t expect him to be impactful in his own zone. But the Islanders are one of the best defensive teams in the league, so they can afford for Parise to have this weakness in his game.
Look for Parise to potentially be a high scorer on the team and to get some time on the power play, as well.
In his first proper NHL campaign, Wahlstrom looked pretty good. He scored 12 goals and 21 points in 44 games and would’ve likely had a much bigger role in the playoffs had he not suffered an injury.
Wahlstrom was one of the few Islanders players to thrive on the power play, scoring four of his goals and six of his assists on the man-advantage. He was also very good defensively, making an already-exceptional defensive team even more so.
Is Wahlstrom due for a breakout year in what will likely be his first full NHL-season?
Wahlstrom should open the season on a line with the veteran scorer Zach Parise as well as Jean-Gabriel Pageau, two players who are fully capable of helping him take the next step.
Wahlstrom should also have another great year on the power play.
As we’ve mentioned in previous pieces, Chára is a great addition to one of the best defensive groups in the NHL and should be quite impactful, even in his age-44 season.
Chára doesn’t do much offensively anymore, but he’s more than serviceable in his own zone.
Equally as important is the fact that the former Boston Bruins captain is a great leader and locker room presence and that he’s likely going to be paired with the young Noah Dobson.
The greatest defenseman of his generation and a future Hall of Famer, Chára is definitely going to have an immensely positive impact on young guys like Dobson, who still have much to learn.
As if Islanders fans didn’t have enough to be excited about, already. They now get to see an NHL great return to where it all began, one of the best teams in hockey.
Dobson is just 21 years old, but he has a lot to learn. After a relatively impressive and promising rookie season two years ago, Dobson struggled up and down the ice in 2021.
The good news is that his situation will be improved: he’s going to be upgraded to the team’s number two RHD and will be playing alongside the great Chára.
Dobson does have experience playing alongside seasoned veterans- he spent last season playing with Andy Greene- but Chára is an upgrade and Dobson could see his game improve mainly because of that fact.
It’s difficult to predict how Dobson will do this season, but a slight improvement offensively and defensively shouldn’t be out of the question.
Greene definitely isn’t the player he once was, but he surprisingly hasn’t been a liability for the Islanders.
Greene wasn’t the best influence on the young Noah Dobson last season, but the fact that the Islanders were a top defensive team in the league while using Greene quite a bit isn’t cause for concern.
Greene will reclaim his role as the Islanders’ number three LHD, but he will be playing alongside a different player, Scott Mayfield. Do they have chemistry? Will that dynamic work out or will Trotz have to try something else out?
Mayfield is one of the few Islanders to find himself in a very different situation this season.
Not only has he been moved to the team’s second to third defensive pairing, he lost his linemate, Nick Leddy and is set to open the season playing alongside the veteran Andy Greene.
In 2021, Mayfield wasn’t great offensively, but had a well-above average year defensively. However, that worked for him because he played alongside an offense-minded Leddy.
Greene is both offensively and defensively worse than Leddy, so how will that work out for Mayfield? Or will Greene also see an improvement in his play because Mayfield is an upgrade over Noah Dobson?
It’s hard to imagine Mayfield being able to play as well in his own zone as he did last season, but he might see an uptick in points.
One of the best and most underrated defensemen in the NHL, Pelech will return (on a new, great-value deal) as the Islanders’ top LHD and one half of one of the best defensive pairings in the game.
Pelech is elite in both zones, is used heavily in all situations, and was actually the team’s best defenseman as one of their best players last season.
Pelech is an important leader on this blueline and is a key reason why they’ve been so successful over the past few seasons. Expect the case to be the same in 2021-22.
Pulock was extremely unlucky in terms of scoring last season, especially on the power play, but 2021 was actually his best ever overall season. Pulock did well in facilitating play and was even better in his own zone.
He’s earned a reputation as a top defenseman in the league, deservedly so. Pulock might be in store to have the best season of his career in 2021-22.
Not only does he play alongside another one of the best in the game, but he’s never looked this great defensively. We also know that last year was an anomaly for him as a scorer and he should score much more than two goals in the regular season.
Pulock has been one of the key pieces of this team’s core and that will certainly be the case this season, as well.
Rookie goaltender Sorokin finally arrived on Long Island last season, but took a backseat to his fellow countryman Semyon Varlamov, who’s been one of the best in the game since joining the Islanders.
Sorokin wasn’t the team’s regular starter and took some time to get going, but he ended up growing quite comfortable and looking like he has real potential to be a solid number on goalie in the NHL, even in the playoffs.
Sorokin will be given another opportunity to shine, this time to kick off the season. Varlamov is on the IR with an injury and although it isn’t too serious, he won’t be ready for opening night and Sorokin will begin the year as the team’s starting goalie.
Although Sorokin looked good last season, he should take a big leap this season and help make the Islanders’ goaltending tandem one of the best in the league.
It’s unclear when he will win the starting job, but he’s in an optimal situation and has the chance to continue to work on his game and improve to the best of his ability.
As we mentioned above, Varlamov has been one of the best goalies in hockey since coming to the Islanders.
Even with the young and promising Ilya Sorokin, who’s regarded as the team’s future in net, knocking at the door, Varlamov has maintained his excellent play both in the regular season and the playoffs, thus keeping his job as the team’s number one starter.
Varlamov will not be ready to go come opening night as he’s on the IR with an injury, but it won’t be long before the 33-year-old is ready to make his season debut.
Varlamov should have another strong year in net while continuing to be a great mentor to Sorokin.
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