Opening night for the New York Islanders, the 2016-17 season is literally right around the corner. Expectations are high by both the organization and the fanbase. Now that the Islanders ended their 23-year playoff series win drought, it’s time for the franchise to take the next step.
The New York Islanders arguably have more depth in between the pipes than any other NHL team. Jaroslav Halak showed everyone at the World Cup, that he’s a top-flight goaltender. Halak has been overlooked and under-appreciated in his career. Last season was another strong campaign for the Slovakian netminder (18-13-1, 2.30 goals against average, .919 save percentage). The only negative on Halak last season was the injury bug bit him.
Last season not only did Thomas Greiss show the organization and the fanbase he can be a solid backup but that he can be a #1 goalie in the NHL. Greiss was terrific in the regular season last year (23-11-4, 2.36 goals against average, .925 save percentage) and even better in the playoffs. Greiss and John Tavares were the reason why the Islanders finally won a playoff series.
Greiss enters this season as the Isles “1A” netminder. Even with a terrific and healthy Halak, Greiss will see a lot of playing time.
J.F. Berube gives the Islanders a good problem to have. The 25-year old goalie has a lot of talent and confidence. The question is how is Jack Capuano going to find Berube playing time both in games and in practice?
When you talk NHL blue lines and teams with the best depth, once again the Islanders are towards the top of the list. Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey and the newly acquired Dennis Seidenberg gives the Islanders a great diverse group. Don’t forget youngster Adam Pelech who will start the year eighth on the Isles blue line depth chart.
Each defenseman for the Islanders brings a great skill set. The most intriguing being youngster Ryan Pulock.
Even though Pulock only played in a few playoff games last year, the Manitoba native was very sound defensively. Everyone knows about the offensive ability he can contribute.
Pulock has a chance to be a game changer on the power-play for the Islanders, which has been maddening inconsistent the last couple of years.
When it comes to the Islanders forwards, does one look at the glass half full or half empty? The half full argument is the Isles have great depth as well as potential. The half empty argument is when the game is on the line against the upper echelon teams besides Tavares who is going to step up and be a difference maker?
Everyone knows Tavares is one of the best players in the league. The questions up front for the Islanders are elsewhere. Can Andrew Ladd hit 30 goals playing with Tavares? Who plays alongside Tavares and Ladd? Will this be a bounce back season for both Ryan Strome and Anders Lee? Lee seemed to find his game down the stretch last season.
Can Brock Nelson be more of a consistent player? Last year he finished second on the team in goals scored with 26 (second straight season with at least 20 goals). But for the most part, Nelson either has dominating games or far too often he is unnoticeable. The 2010 first round pick is capable of a lot if he can be more of a consistent performer.
No doubt what Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, P.A. Parenteau, and Jason Chimera bring to the table on a nightly basis. Youngsters Shane Prince and Alan Quine should make the secondary forward unit a strong one for the Isles. I use the word consistency once again as an issue with both Josh Bailey and Nikolai Kulemin.
The time is coming for the Islanders top forward prospects to graduate to the NHL. Mathew Barzal could have made the Islanders last year. Unless something unforeseen happens the 2016-17 season will be Barzal’s rookie year. At the bare minimum, he should help the Isles scoring and improve the power-play.
Most likely scenario for Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang is they will spend the majority of this year with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. They could help the Isles down the stretch this season.
The Islanders penalty kill unit was one of the team’s strengths last season. They finished fourth in the league (84.5%) in killing penalties. Losing Frans Nielsen will hurt the PK unit. The power-play however, was another matter. At times fans wanted to pull their hair out watching the Isles play with the extra man. Last season they finished 17th (18.3%) in the league on the power-play. Barzal, Pulock, and Ladd could make this unit a strength this season.
OT – Shootout
Last year the Islanders finished 11-10 when the games went to extra time. In the shootout, the Isles were 5-5. Kyle Okposo and Nielsen were the Islanders two best shootout shooters. Ladd should help the Islanders in games that are decided by the skills competition.
Home & Road
The Barclays Center was very good to the Islanders last season. The Isles went 25-11-5 in their first season in Brooklyn. Like to see the Islanders improve upon their 20-16-5 road record from last season.
Given the depth that the Islanders have in goal and on the blueline they should be in almost every game. The big question will be in games that are late and close, will the Isles be able to score that key deciding goal?
In terms of the regular season, the Islanders should hit the 100 point mark for the third consecutive year. The Islanders will finish third in the Metropolitan division for the 2016-17 season behind the Penguins and the Capitals.
But the big question for the Islanders come playoff time is can they win a series against one of the elites in Pittsburgh, Washington or Tampa? It’s too early to know the answer to this question now.
If the Islanders can’t take a big step forward this season at a minimum, ownership could be in the market for a new coach and general manager.