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New York Islanders: The Top Prospects’ Delayed Path to the NHL Roster

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BRIDGEPORT, CT - DECEMBER 19: Matt Donovan #24 of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers celebrates his second goal of the game which turned out to be the game winner against the Albany Devils at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard on December 19, 2012 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Sound Tigers defeated the Devils 4-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BRIDGEPORT, CT - DECEMBER 19: Matt Donovan #24 of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers celebrates his second goal of the game which turned out to be the game winner against the Albany Devils at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard on December 19, 2012 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Sound Tigers defeated the Devils 4-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders prized prospects have been seemingly blocked by this offseason’s surprising moves, but the future is bright and the path is clear for them to join the NHL roster next year.

This much has been clear from New York Islanders’ President and GM Lou Lamoriello this offseason – leadership and reliable two-way play is paramount.

He wants to build a culture for the New York Islanders as one of the hardest-working teams that doesn’t let you beat them without a fight (sometimes literally with both Johnston and Martin on the roster).

Also clear are short commitments.  Bridge players were brought in to buy time while he decides who he wants to promote and support from the AHL level and who he wants to let walk or use as trade bait.

Lamoriello needs time to evaluate, but he’s also intelligent enough to know that building your lines with homegrown, cheap ELC players is the way to build a long-term roster.

It appears clear that he has no intention of bringing in prospects to start the 2018-19 season, but don’t worry, there’s a path to see the top prospects make their way to the big club starting in 2019.

And the thought of it coming to fruition is exciting.

Looking Ahead

In 2019, seven potential roster spots open up. In 2020, two more.

That includes seven roster spots opening for forwards over the next two years.

The defense prospects are deeper and NHL blue line more contractually defined, so unless some players are moved in trades, that logjam is more complicated.

I’ll avoid projecting any trades or free-agent signings but will assume that Lee re-signs and Eberle walks, and will optimistically assume that Lehner plays at least well enough this season to get another two cheap years from the Isles.

Any players brought in through free agency or trades would probably push Ladd, Martin and Clutterbuck to the bench (or involved in the trades), but we’ll avoid that speculation for the moment.

With all this turnover, we start to see Lou’s clear plan for promotions.

Free Agents in 2019

Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, Jan Kovar, Tom Kuhnhackl, Valtteri Filppula and Robin Lehner. Beauvillier is a RFA, but he’s not going anywhere.

If Lee and Lehner stay on, that opens five forward slots.

Free Agents in 2020

Matt Martin and Thomas Greiss. Barzal and Pulock are RFA, but safe money is that they go nowhere.

With Martin and Greiss gone, that’s one more forward slot and one goalie slot.

2019 Roster

Bellows, Ho-Sang and Wahlstrom are likely call-ups up to take the places of the departing forwards.

Bellows is clearly ready, and Ho-Sang has shown flashes of ability at the NHL level already. By that point, after a year playing at Boston College, Oliver Wahlstrom just may be ready as well.

There may be an opportunity for other forwards to come up as well, but it’s unlikely that Lamoriello will see any ready for promotion just yet.

Toews is still a man without a slot, but you’d certainly have to expect he’d play his way in there somehow, if even as the seventh defenseman.

Bellows – Barzal – Wahlstrom
Lee – Beauvillier – Bailey
Ladd – Cizikas – Ho-Sang
Johnston – Komarov – Clutterbuck
(Scratches: Martin, TBD)

Leddy – Pulock
Pelech – Boychuk
Hickey – Mayfield
(Toews)

Lehner
(Greiss)

2020 Roster

Linus Söderström, or possibly 2018 third-round draft pick Jakub Skarek entering his 20-year-old season, certainly make a move in 2020 as Thomas Greiss will not be re-signed.

There are also forward slots ready to be taken by the next ready prospect, as Ladd and Clutterbuck would either be nearing healthy scratch time or have been traded, but those openings could go the way of free agents instead.

Bellows – Barzal – Wahlstrom
Lee – Beauvillier – Bailey
TBD – Cizikas – Ho-Sang
Johnston – Komarov – TBD
(Ladd, Clutterbuck)

Leddy – Pulock
Pelech – Mayfield
Hickey – Boychuk
(Toews)

Lehner
(Söderström)

2021 and Beyond

2021 and beyond is where you start to see the defense transition begin. Three years out seems like the most likely landing time for players like Bode Wilde and Noah Dobson unless there is an injury or shake-up on the defense in the meantime.

And with Leddy, Boychuk and Hickey UFA’s after the 2022-23 season, the New York Islanders defense come the start of the ’23 season may look like some combination of Pulock, Toews, Dobson, Wilde, Mayfield, Aho, Quenneville and Vande Sompel.

Is Cal Clutterbuck Likely to be Moved?. Next

The path may seem frustrating and delayed, but it is clear and full of talent, and you can bet Lou Lamoriello is one step ahead.

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