We have nearly arrived, Islanders fans! Opening Night takes place in just five days at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
In the last few preseason games, we have started to get a look at the shape of the team’s Opening Night Roster. Roster battles that “officially” started before Training Camp even opened up are coming to an end. While it hasn’t been made official, we have a pretty solid understanding of which of the Islanders’ young prospects will make the team for the season debut on October 4.
With the team almost being established, we now can take a look at the specific players. In this edition of the Player Season Previews, we will look at the forwards. We’ll take a look at their projected stats, and where we think they’ll place. So without further adieu, let’s begin our season preview with the 2013-14 New York Islander’s forwards.
In case you’ve spent the last year under a rock, the Islanders have a superstar in John Tavares. He is a dynamic playmaker, but Tavares took on a new role last year, goal scoring. Tavares scored 28 goals in the 48 game season last year, good for second in the league behind Alex Ovechkin.
Tavares also recorded 19 assists, good for 47 points on the season and a Hart Memorial Trophy nomination for the league’s MVP. Look for the new captain to set personal records this year on what is shaped to be a dynamic first line and again compete for the league’s MVP honors.
2013-14 Stats: 42 Goals, 53 assists, 95 Points
While Tavares was clearly the best first-liner on the Islanders last season, he wouldn’t have put up numbers without his partner, Matt Moulson. Moulson, who is known for his goal scoring, having three straight 30 goal seasons prior to the 2012-13 season, began to take on a bit of a different role as well. Moulson put up 15 goals while leading the team with 29 assists, putting up an impressive 44 points, just a few points shy of the team lead.
While Moulson took on the role of playmaker last season, look for him to go back to his old position of goal scorer. He is a man who thrives on capitalizing on opportunities, and we should see that this year.
2013-14 Stats: 37 goals, 35 assists, 72 points
Kyle Okposo has really changed the way Islanders fans view him, and we have his play to thank for that. Okposo, who is notorious for having very slow regular season starts did just that last season. He was lazy at times, sluggish, and was noticeably lacking emotion. Fans were in dismay, and many wanted him traded or sent down to Bridegport.
Half way into the season,while the Islanders looked down-and-out, Okposo had what was the best game of his season at the time. Although the Islanders lost to the Maple Leafs by a score of 5-4 on February 28th, Islanders fans and players alike would both agree that Okposo was the best man on the ice that night. With 1 goal and 2 assists, Okposo helped re-energize the team that night with his emotion and play.
He continued to elevate the level of his game, and put up respectable numbers for the season. Okposo only had 4 goals last season, but he recorded 20 assists, good for 24 points. Now keep in mind, most of his stats came in the last fifteen games of this season, during the Islanders sensational run that propelled them into the playoffs.
Playing last season on a second line with Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen, he could very well see time on the top line in 2013. With Bailey currently practicing with the top line, Okposo appears to be starting this season alongside Nielsen and Michael Grabner. However, don’t be surprised if Okposo is moved up to the top line if he starts off this season strong.
2013-14 Stats: 25 goals, 30 assists, 55 points.
Josh Bailey had a season very similar 2012-13 season to that of fellow line-mate Kyle Okposo. Bailey struggled mightily for the first half of the season, but was able to turn his season around and was a catalyst during the Islanders’ run to the playoffs.
Bailey is currently playing on a first line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. He started the last two preseason games on the top line, and he looked strong. It’s highly likely that Bailey will start Opening Night on the top line, but he will be moved throughout the top-six forwards this season. In all likelihood, even though he’ll see a good portion of his season on the top line, he will ultimately finish the season on the second unit.
2013-14 Stats: 18 goals, 26, 44 points
The most underrated player in the NHL still continues to live up to his title. Perhaps it’s because of the team he plays on, but for whatever reason, Frans Nielsen doesn’t quite ever seem to get all of the recognition he deserves. He certainly gets it from the team and the fans, which is ultimately the most important part. But seeing Nielsen play for so long, it continues to baffle me how he doesn’t receive such recognition.
Frans has another strong season, posting 6 goals and 23 assists for a total of 29 points last year. His offensive stats aren’t star-caliber, but his stats don’t paint the entire picture with Nielsen. He is undoubtedly one of the league’s top two-way forwards. He can produce offensively, but he is a very skilled defensive player. Nielsen and his second line are often paired against opposing team’s strongest offensive lines, holding star players in check and he’s been doing it throughout his tenure with the Islanders. He is an asset to this Islanders team.
Nielsen saw most of his play last year on the 2nd line, and look to see that again this season. However, there may be appearances on the third line as well. He really fits nicely into a role with players like Peter Regin and Brock Nelson, so don’t count out seeing a mixed top and bottom six role.
2013-14 stats: 13 goals, 30 assits, 43 points
Michael Grabner gave Islanders fans a nightly dosage of thrill with his breakaways. Grabner seemingly had a breakaway at least once a game last season. His tremendous speed enabled him to glide past opposing players with ease. While creating the breakaways wasn’t a problem, converting on them was a challenge. Grabner put up a respectable 16 goals last season, but easily could have hit the 25 goal mark (potentially more) had he converted more often.
Last season, Grabner spent his season on the Islanders’ third line. However, this preseason, Grabner has seen most of his play on the team’s second line with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. This line serves as a huge threat if it remains in tact. You get the best of both worlds on this line, with gritty defensive play and flashy breakways opportunities. This line pairing is ingenious, and a goal scorer like Grabner should shine with playmakers to work with.
2013-14 stats: 32 goals, 13 assists, 45 points
The Islanders shiny new toy unfortunately has to sit unopened for the next few weeks. Clutterbuck sustained a leg injury in the Islanders first preseason game, and probably won’t return until mid October at the earliest.
Clutterbuck won’t be out for too long, which is a good thing for the Islanders. He provides a unique style of play most people in the NHL don’t posses. He’s an enforcer with goal scoring ability. Clutterbuck was the league leader in hits from 2008-2010 until a man by the name of Matt Martin (the name rings a bell) dethroned him. While he’s primarily known an used for his hitting, he can produce offensively. Cal only had 10 points last season, but his numbers should go up this season. He’ll be playing on a third line with either Brock Nelson or Peter Regin (maybe even both), which will contribute to his bottom line. Clutterbuck should be able to put up a respectable amount of points with two skilled players.
2013-14 Stats: 20 goals, 15 assists, 35 points
Bouchard was a classic Garth Snow signing. He has a relatively low stock given his injury history. However, Bouchard is a skilled player, and he fits just about anywhere the Islanders desire to put him.
The signing is basically a no risk, infinite reward signing. Bouchard’s 2,000,000 dollar salary won’t hurt the Islanders’ cap space, so in the likely event that he injures himself, the money won’t be thrown away.
Bouchard’s play really isn’t as bad as I may be making it sound right now. Last year, Bouchard scored 8 goals while notching 12 assists for a total of 20 points. With a career high of 59 points, he has a strong skill set. Many people want to see Bouchard play top line minutes, but with the talent the Islanders have, putting Bouchard in the bottom six is logical, as his skill adds depth to the team. Placing Bouchard on the third line with possibly Brock Nelson or Peter Regin gives the Islanders three legitimate scoring lines. He gives the Islanders depth, and we should see that this season.
2013-14 stats, 15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points
Brock Nelson is without question the Islanders best two-way forward the Islanders have in their prospect pool. Nelson possesses strong skating ability, along with strong defense and a wicked wrist shot.
Nelson will see third line time for the start of the season with Peter Regin and possibly Pierre-Marc Bouchard amidst the absence of Cal Clutterbuck. When Clutterbuck returns, to Islanders fans dismay, unless Nelson dominates while Clutterbuck is injured, he probably won’t be staying too long on Long Island. He could be sent down to Bridgeport.
However, count on Nelson to be the man to come up if an injury occurs. Given Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s injury history, it isn’t far-fetched to say that he will be missing part of the season due to injury. And who knows what an 82 game season will bring? Odds are someone will sustain an injury at some point, which will open up a spot for Nelson. Nelson is a solid player, and he’ll put up nice stats in his rookie season.
2013-14 stats: 11 goals, 21 assists, 32 points
When Peter Regin was initially signed once the Free Agency period began, many people, myself included, were scratching their heads. With so many forwards, why bother signing another one?
Fast forward to the Islanders’ first preseason game, and Cal Clutterbuck sustains an injury, he’ll be out 4-6 weeks. That crazy signing by the Garth Snow doesn’t seem to crazy anymore.
And atop the convenience of the signing, Regin also is a skilled player. He reminds many of the play of his fellow countryman Frans Nielsen. Both possess a skill set that can dazzle players, and both are solid two-way skaters. Regin, like Bouchard, adds depth to this Islanders team.
Regin will probably make the Opening Night roster on the third line with Brock Nelson and Pierre Marc Bouchard. Once Clutterbuck returns from injury, if he plays well, Regin should be considered the man to take the position of third line center. While some fans may not be thrilled with that now, just wait until you see Regin play. You’ll change your mind quickly.
2013-14 stats: 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points
Matt Martin; there’s a lot to be said about the man. He’s a positive entity in the locker room, he’s exciting on the ice with his hits, and is always noticeable on the ice with his energy and hustle. Martin has become a fan favorite with his play over the last few seasons, and look for that same attributes from Martin’s game to be shown all season long.
Martin has lead the league in hits for the last two years, and there’s no reason to assume he doesn’t do it again. Martin’s physical play energizes his team out on the ice. He may not be a goal scorer, but his role is vital on the team nonetheless on the Islanders’ energizing 4th line.
2013-14 stats: 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points
We move from one fan favorite to the next. Casey Cizikas quickly established a reputation on Long Island as a hard worker who will do what it takes to win games for his team. He always is hustling to the best of his ability. Whether it’d be hitting or scoring, Cizikas is always grinding away and getting into the dirty areas.
Cizikas surprisingly earned a roster spot out of training camp last season, but should be a lock for the team this season. His role on the team is a grinder, but he can occasionally put up points, as shown by his 15 points has season. Similar to his fellow 4th line partner Matt Martin, Cizikas likes to energize his team, and that is something we will see all season long.
2013-14 stats: 10 goals, 8 assists, 18 points
McDonald, who earned a roster spot last year in training camp, didn’t exactly resonate with the fans. Many fans wanted to see one of the highly-touted prospects get a chance.
However, McDonald served as a vital part of the Islanders’ bottom six lineup. He was a physical force who was able to put up occasional points. McDonald had 7 goals last year, which is about what you’d expect from a fourth-liner. His 10 assists also were right were they should be. All around, McDonald had a solid season, and like the rest of his fourth line, energized the team with physical play.
McDonald is by no means a superstar, but he is invaluable to one of the best fourth lines in the NHL.
2013-14 stats: 10 goals, 12 assists, 22 points
Honestly, there’s a good chance Strome doesn’t get any time with the Islanders this season. Garth Snow knows what he’s doing with Strome. He’ll likely have Strome start the season in Bridgeport and stay there. We’ve seen what rushing players to the NHL can do, and with a guy with Strome’s potential, there’s no point in squandering his confidence.
But that’s not to say that Strome playing for the Islanders this season is impossible. If injuries plague the team, Strome may have to fill a role. While I don’t think the team will have to resort to him, you can’t really count anything out.
2013-14 stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points