Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
The Islanders have been struggling immensely for the last four weeks. After a miserable November in which the Islanders posted a lousy 4-10-1 record, Long Island’s hockey team is in the basement of the Metropolitan Division and now four games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The secondary scoring has been flat lately. Aside from the team’s first line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Thomas Vanek, and second liner Frans Nielsen, the Islanders as a team have really struggled lighting the lamp. The Islanders only scored three goals in a game four times during the month of November.
With guys like Peter Regin, Michael Grabner, and Josh Bailey struggling, not having scored in over a month, a change may be needed to spark their games. Clearly, if the lack of secondary scoring continues, the Islanders hopes of reaching the playoffs becomes much more difficult to fulfill.
The solution to this problem is not that simple. The Islanders don’t need to go out and get a star forward; they don’t need to trade away any picks and they don’t even need to acquire any free agents.
The solution: Look in-house and recall Ryan Strome.
This is a perfect option for the Islanders. Strome has wreaked havoc with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL, just winning the Player of the Week and Rookie of the Month honors for his stellar play during the month of November (ironic, right?). Strome’s offense has been superb in the AHL; he’s currently fourth in the scoring race with 25 points in 20 games. Strome has 18 assists, which are second in the AHL.
The only uncertainty Strome brings with him is where he’d fit in the lineup. Strome could certainly play anywhere from the team’s top six forwards to third line center.
The Islanders’ first line boasts two NHL superstars in John Tavares and Thomas Vanek. Both players have played very well as of late. Since Vanek’s arrival to Long Island, he’s played alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
Now, I’m not criticizing the play of Kyle Okposo, who has had a terrific season thus far, but his natural place just isn’t on the first line. He has played better when the Islanders haven’t put him on the first line his entire career.
If there is one player who deserves to take Okposo’s position as first line winger, it’s Brock Nelson. Nelson has excelled as a rookie this season, particularly on the Islanders’ first line alongside Tavares. Putting Nelson with Tavares and Vanek, who have been noticeably developing their own chemistry, will only blossom Nelson’s play and make him that much more valuable to the team and the first line.
With that said, Strome could easily fit right into the second line. Strome would pair nicely with the slumping Josh Bailey. Strome has both great scoring and passing ability, which benefits a player like Bailey in his current state. He needs someone to help him get out of his slump, and Frans Nielsen hasn’t done that very well and looks worn down lately.
Strome would also benefit greatly from playing with Kyle Okposo. Okposo is a great skater who possesses both a good shot and strong passing ability, and also plays with a physical element. A complete player like Okposo complements flashy players like Ryan Strome. Strome can already make his way up the ice with ease using his dynamic skating, but with a strong player to accompany him, the tandem could be one of the best on the team.
As for Frans Nielsen, he could serve as a strong third line center. Putting Nielsen, a player who has a strong skill set with someone who can open up the ice like Cal Clutterbuck could have Frans producing like he was just a few weeks ago.
If I were in charge of constructing the Islanders lineup, it would depict a first line of Vanek, Tavares, and Nelson, followed by a second line of Ryan Strome at center flanked by Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo, a third line of Frans Nielsen along with Cal Clutterbuck and Michael Grabner, followed by the normal fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Colin McDonald.
Keep an eye on Ryan Strome these next few weeks. In all probability given the Islanders tumultuous struggles, he could very well end up with the team. Keeping him dominating play in the AHL really doesn’t do much, and his skill could make him an effective player at the NHL level.
Let me know what you guys think on this situation in the comments below or on twitter. And as always, thanks for reading.