September 23, 2013 by Cups n Pucks
The Islander’s success begins and ends with John Tavares; his play will dictate the future for the franchise. All signs point to Tavares continuing to develop into a premier player in the league. With an impressive showing against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the sky is the limit for the Islanders. That is why we have them at #10 on our NHL Season Countdown.
In the 2013 draft, New York selected defenseman Ryan Pulock with the 15th overall pick who had a bit of a down season totaling 45 points with a -7 rating (down from 60 points and +33 in 2011-2012). He and fellow prospect Griffin Reinhart (5th overall in 2012) are the future of the Islander’s blue line. Expect Pulock to play back with the Edmonton Oil Kings for another year.
The Islanders also made a trade to add more depth up front. They sent Nino Niederreiter (5th overall in 2010) to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck. Niederreiter was struggling to live up to his 5th overall selection while Clutterbuck fit the physical presence needed on the Islander’s third line.
As mentioned from the beginning, John Tavares is the super star of the New York Islanders and high production has steadily increased each of his first three years in the NHL. Last year he was on pace for 40 goals and 80 points had there been a full 82 game season. I’m expecting huge break-out numbers from the 23-year-old.
Tavares’ line mates aren’t too shabby either. Matt Moulson must be the quietest consistent 30 goal scorer in the league. Before the lock-out shortened season, Moulson reached the 30 goal plateau every year with the Islanders and it would be difficult to believe he wouldn’t do it again. Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be the new face playing right wing on the top line. He has a history with concussions but, when healthy, could be a very effective player.
Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey will rotating playing with Frans Nielsen on the second line. Grabner’s superior speed will frustrate opponents, but he hasn’t been close to matching his 34 goal 2010-2011 season. Okposo must elevate his game if he wishes to stay within the top six and his disappointing showing last year won’t go unnoticed. Okposo is also an injury prone player; he just hasn’t lived up to his 7th overall pick in 2006.
Most exciting could be the addition of Ryan Strome into the line-up. The 5th overall pick in 2011 has incredible hands and has loads of promise playing center behind Tavares or even flanking him on the right side down the road. For now, expect Strome to get his first taste of NHL action on the 3rd line.
Despite no big names, New York’s defense is extremely reliable. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are the top pairing capable of playing against other teams top lines. Neither will be lighting up the league with their offensive ability (expect around 30 points max for both), but are strong defensive defensemen who can eat a decent amount of minutes.
A large part of Islander’s success last season can be attributed to Lubomir Visnovsky joining the Islanders. When he first was traded to the team, there was some doubt surrounding him and his attendance at the Islander’s camp, but he turned out to be extremely effective. Visnovsky was the defenseman needed to quarter back the Islander’s power play.
Evgeni Nabokov was another player who wasn’t eager to join the Islanders, but when he did decide to play it was lights out. Posting a .914 and .910 save percentage with the Islanders over the last two years is no joke. Nabokov is the type of goalie you want in the crease if you are intending on making a push in the playoffs. The Islanders have elected to go with young Kevin Poulin as a back-up goalie rather than signing a veteran. At 23 years old, Poulin backing up Nabokov would be a great way for him to gain experience slowly as well as learning under the expert tutelage of a well traveled goalie like Nabokov.
This is a team built with top 10 draft picks over the last few years, and after the years of suffering the Islanders’ fans have some success to cheer about. It would be shocking for the Islanders to not build on a impressive performance against the Penguins in the 2013 playoffs. With Tavares and Moulson leading the way, look for the Islanders to push deeper into the playoffs.