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Islanders: Predicting Forward Depth After Travis Zajac Retirement

Apr 8, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Travis Zajac (14) skates in warms up for the first time after being traded to the New York Islanders in the game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Travis Zajac (14) skates in warms up for the first time after being traded to the New York Islanders in the game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
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After playing in the NHL for 15 seasons, Travis Zajac decided to call it a career. The long-time New Jersey Devil was a trade deadline acquisition for the New York Islanders this past year and provided solid depth to the bottom six in 13 regular-season games and 14 playoff games.

The expectation was that Travis Zajac was going to return in a 13th forward kind of role with New York this year but with his retiring that throws a wrench into that idea.

When looking at the Islanders’ current contracts they have 14 forwards signed. That doesn’t include Kieffer Bellows or Michael Dal Colle which all signs point to them returning for the 2021-2022 season.

First, we have to establish what the forward lineup will look like:

Lee – Barzal – Palmieri/Wahlstrom

Beauvillier – Nelson – Bailey

Parise – Pageau – Wahlstrom/Palmieri

Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Sure, this is just an educated guess and it could obviously change but based on everything we’ve seen so far this will more than likely be the lineup on opening night. If we’re going to assume that the team will carry two goalies, seven defensemen, and 14 forwards that would leave two extra spots for a forward.

Your choices are Leo Komarov, Richard Panik, Ross Johnston, Otto Koivula, Kieffer Bellows, and Michael Dal Colle for the final two spots.

If it’s not going to be a detriment to the cap, then Leo Komarov seems like the most obvious choice. He’s heading into the final year of his contract and will have a $3 million cap hit.

If it were up to me, I’d waive him and save some cash by burying his deal in the AHL. In this case, Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello don’t align with me. They love Leo Komarov as shown by him being glued to Mat Barzal’s wing.

Outside of Otto Koivula, who has just a handful of NHL games under his belt, he is the only one of the bunch who could play center in a pinch. I think that gives him an advantage.

As for the rest of the bunch, Kieffer Bellows likely provides the highest ceiling but I’m not sold on him getting the nod at the NHL level. I think they’d rather have him in the AHL and actually have him play rather than leaving him to rot as the 14th forward on the NHL roster.

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Instead, Michael Dal Colle seems like the front runner for that job. Dal Colle had four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 26 games played last season. Barry Trotz seems to like his game in a limited role as he plays mistake-free hockey with little offensive upside.

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