3 Bold Predictions for the NY Islanders in 2022-23

/ Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The start of the 2022-23 season is closing in on us, being only three weeks away now from the first regular season game and training camp starting up today around the league. NY Islanders fans have had much time to think about how their favorite team's season will go, with both positive and negative ideas and expectations coming forth.

New York Islanders Training Camp
New York Islanders Training Camp / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The Isles have been somewhat polarizing in that sense, with some believing the team they have now is enough to push them to the playoffs, while others think change is needed in order for the team to get better. With that being said, there are plenty of in-house players that we can predict to step up and reach a new level to help that playoff push, even if they are against the odds.

Here are some bold predictions for the Isles this upcoming season.

1. Mat Barzal Scores 90+ Points and has an MVP Caliber Season

If the same-look Islanders are going to make the playoffs this season in a Metro division that had many teams significantly improve, certain players internally are going to need to take their game to a different level. Mat Barzal has said this about himself, that he knows an extra step has to be taken in order for the team to improve the way it needs to.

Jumping up to 90 or more points would be shattering a career-high for Barzy, and would be the first time he even crossed 60 points in three seasons. Given the potential that Islanders fans see from him on a nightly basis with his speed and vision of the ice, the eye test alone could tell you he is waiting to burst out of the gates.

"I feel like in order for us to be good, I have to be among the top players in the League. I feel like I just didn't do it consistently enough last year.
Mat Barzal

Stat-wise, this was one of his least productive seasons while in the NHL. However, what's intriguing is his production on the power play this past season. This was his second best season in producing power play assists with 19, and his best with creating first assists finishing with 10. This shows that he was much more comfortable on the power-play this season and was able to make more plays leading to goals, also shown by his on-ice SH% of 14.86, by far the best mark since his rookie season, which emphasizes again that the team scores much more on the power-play with him on the ice. If he can create even more space and use that speed to his advantage to set up teammates such as Anders Lee, Noah Dobson, Ryan Pulock, and Brock Nelson among others, then the Islanders' power play as a whole can be much more improved with his help.

Motivation-wise, this season is a season Barzal can't really afford to mess up. His contract will be up for renewal on July 1st in 2023, and this will be the chance for him to be locked up with financial security. Barzal currently takes up $7 million on the cap, which is tied for the highest cap percentage on the team with Lee, according to CapFriendly. Barzal has been rumored to have begun contract negotiations with management, but it is widely unexpected that a deal gets done before the season begins. An understandable move by Barzal's camp if he is willing to bet on himself to get a big contract.

The Islanders themselves have been counted out of contention by many due to their lack of personnel changes and inability to score goals. If he is able to take the Islanders to the next level from his play alone and lead the team to a high finish in the standings, along with offensive prowess, there's no reason he shouldn't be in the Hart Trophy conversation. A similar situation in recent memory could be related to Artemi Panarin's first season with the New York Rangers, a team that was still considered to be in their rebuilding stage, yet Panarin scored 95 points in just 63 games in 2019-20, which lead to third place in the Hart Trophy voting.

2. Aatu Räty Makes the Islanders Roster and Is a Calder Trophy Candidate

What exactly defines bold? In this instance, defying what GM Lou Lamoriello just publicly said about his prospects taking time in the AHL to develop, and saying he wins an individual award this upcoming season in the big leagues should qualify as more than just bold.

Aatu Räty at one point long before the day he got drafted by the Isles was considered to be the best prospect in his draft class. He ended up falling from a top-scouted prospect all the way to round two, pick number 54. This was mostly due to a hard time developing to the professional level while in Europe, granted at such a young age. In his draft season with Liiga's Oulun Kärpät, he only mustered six points in 35 games in a season he was expected to make a little more of an impact. This past season, he played with Mikkelin Jukurit and had much more promising results, scoring 40 points in 41 games. Much more like what a projected top pick could do.

Räty is only 19 years old right now, which in itself will make it hard for him to jump into a lineup full of veterans that have earned their place on the roster. But the kid has only proven everybody wrong and has gotten noticeably better ever since getting drafted, quite literally by scoring four goals in the World Junior Summer Showcase mere hours after the selection. His World Junior prowess did not stop there. In the 2022 World Juniors that was rescheduled to the summer due to COVID issues in the winter, he had a very impressive 10 points in seven games while leading the Finns to the gold medal game, eventually losing in 3-on-3 overtime while earning silver.

Sometimes there needs to be an adjustment period for European players to adjust to the North American game, but some players adapt quicker than others. A young NHL star with a comparable style to Räty that comes to mind is Tim Stützle, who adjusted to the smaller rink relatively quickly. I am not saying he will turn into that caliber of a player right away, but if he were to shock the world, let alone the Islanders staff, he could very well be a dark horse candidate to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. A young player like him who has played against men in Europe and has shown great agility, puck control, passing, and ability to score in many areas around the net could certainly make some noise if he makes the roster this season, and gets put next to players that would complement his game, such as Brock Nelson or Mat Barzal.

3. Alexander Romanov Explodes for a 50+ Point Breakout Season

It may seem crazy to think that the Islanders' sole significant acquisition during the offseason will have a season like this, but two words come to mind in a situation like this: Noah Dobson.

Dobson's second season in the league was underwhelming to say the least when comparing it to the year he had this past season. Jumping from 3 goals and 14 points up to an astounding 13 goals and 51 points in his junior campaign, that high of a jump was surely unexpected.

“His skating is impeccable. It’s the first thing that’s going to stand out to the Islander fans is that, boy he can move quickly."
Marco D'Amico- Montreal beat reporter

With the departure of Andy Greene, Alexander Romanov is expected to be sliding in with Dobson on his left side, which should benefit him greatly. Entering his third year, the smooth skating, puck-moving defenseman with an edge to his game also had high expectations to pick up the scoring for the Montreal Canadiens last season. That, along with pretty much everything else last season, did not go the way the Canadiens had expected, finishing with 3 goals and 13 points, coincidentally almost identical to Dobson.

Romanov's offensive potential may be understated now because of how bad Montreal was around the 22 year old defenseman, but he was one of the few players that were not a weak spot. His xGF in his sophomore season was 59.93 on a bad, low-scoring team, which compared to Dobson's second season is even more promising. Dobson finished with a 31.68 xGF on a good, low-scoring team and improved to a very impressive 87.33 during his breakout 2021-22.

If we can expect anything for Romanov this season, we can expect that his offensive usage and opportunity will grow with being paired up with Dobson. Most of Romanov's shifts started in the defensive zone in Montreal, with his offensive zone start percentage at a low 33.1%, whereas Dobson usually starts in the offensive zone, with that percentage being 60.22%. This is also somehow the lowest in his career when you consider his efficiency in that zone.

"When Martin St. Louis came in and they opened up the games, he was far more efficient at moving the puck up the ice and transporting the puck because he has that ability. We’ve seen it at World Junior Championships. He just wasn’t used in that role.”
Marco D'Amico

So, why can't he break out like Dobson did last year? He will have a greater opportunity to showcase his skills on a much better team, which will also put him in the best position to succeed. Lou Lamoriello traded a first-round pick for him for crying out loud, 13th overall specifically, so if he spent that high a pick on a young, promising Romanov, he must believe that he can be an impact player for the Islanders for the foreseeable future.