3 NY Islanders forward line combinations we could see in 2022-23

Anaheim Ducks v New York Islanders
Anaheim Ducks v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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One of Lane Lambert's jobs as the new head coach will be similar to Barry Trotz's, pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of the group. Part of that has to do with figuring out the right line combinations early on, allowing those combinations to build chemistry and continue to grow as the season progresses. The NY Islanders aren't an offensive juggernaut by any means, but Lou Lamoriello and Lambert will surely be looking for more offensive output.

After learning that the Islanders were done making moves this offseason, the NHL Network did their best to piece together what they believe the lines will be for the forward group in 2022-23. There are certain combinations in their projection that you could see stick and others that you could see changes. For instance, it may no longer be a foregone conclusion that the fourth line remains intact despite Cal Clutterbuck's two-year renewal.

One of the more important projects for Lambert will be to find the proper line-mates for Mathew Barzal who, despite tying Brock Nelson for the team lead in points, had a disappointing season for a player of his stature. To be fair, his wingers were often changed last season due to a number of circumstances, but looking ahead to a season that should be relatively more normal, Barzal should be able to have two consistent running mates on a nightly basis.

So as the Islanders' "new voice," will Lambert choose to keep the lines the way they were and hope his message can result in a different output? Or will he choose to tinker with the lines and find new combinations of players that click to give the Islanders a boost in the goal-scoring department? Let's take a look at some possible forward-line combinations for the Islanders headed into the 2022-23 season.

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Two
New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Two / Elsa/GettyImages
  1. Anders Lee - Mathew Barzal - Kyle Palmieri
  2. Anthony Beauvillier - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey
  3. Zach Parise - J.G. Pageau - Oliver Wahlstrom
  4. Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

More of the same

To start the 2021-22 season, this is the lineup Trotz rolled out for the first game of the regular season. At one point in time, the majority of this roster was not easy to play against. It did not turn out that way last season, despite what the circumstances might have been. There's an argument to be made that this lineup can still be effective when not being forced to start a season on one of the longer road trips in NHL history and without the majority of the NHL roster due to Covid complications and injuries.

Of course, injuries you can't help, but the Covid protocols have changed and the likelihood that players will miss as much time as they used to has also changed. So what do the Islanders have in this kind of lineup?

Lee and Palmieri may not be the speediest players to pair with Barzal, but they both know how to fill the net. Both are former 30-goal scorers and Lee even hit 40 goals in the 2017-18 season. In the second half of last year, Lee admitted it took him some time, but he finally was starting to feel more comfortable with his knee that was surgically repaired the season before.

There’s lingering things that come with it. The strength is there. The confidence is there. It’s one of those things that’s not going to feel like it’s completely gone for a little bit and that’s fine. I knew that going into it. It’s just one that maybe took me a little bit longer than I had worked for or hoped for.
Anders Lee

Palmieri went 29 games before scoring his second (and third) goal of the season, a metric that's never happened before in his career. In that span, his shooting percentage was a meek 1.6%, far less than his career 12.2 S%. He finally started to find the net more consistently from February to the end of the season potting 14 goals in 40 games, proving he hadn't lost his touch but rather was in a bit of a rut like the rest of the team. A trio of Lee, Barzal, and Palmieri has the potential to score a lot of goals so long as Barzal's wingers can put themselves in the right position to score, and maybe raise their IQs to know what the shifty, sometimes unpredictable Barzal is going to do.

Nelson, Beauvillier, and Bailey were once such a force as a unit that they were given the nickname "Killer B's." In the 2020-21 playoffs, the trio led the Islanders in goals scored with a combined 11 goals just five goals short of Vegas Golden Knights trip Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Rielly Smith who scored the most goals that offseason.

If those three could find their mojo again, the Islanders would have one of the better second lines in the NHL. Nelson is coming off a 37-goal performance, but Beauvillier and Bailey had disappointing seasons, it's hoping for a lot, but those three have chemistry.

Keeping the fourth line together is likely. Lamoriello and Lambert are banking on one of the longest summers in recent history for the Islanders spelling a well-rested and recovered Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck, hoping for the return of the "best fourth line in hockey," the same line that wreaked havoc in the playoffs, bringing fans to their seats, and banged bodies wearing down the opponent.

That leaves the third line. Parise not only was the only Islander to play all 82 games last season, but in terms of effort, he was one of the best Islanders on the ice every night. He's a good mentor for Wahlstrom to model his game after, receiving much criticism from Trotz regarding his game away from the puck. Pageau's ability to be good at everything gives him the ability to goal scorers such as Parise and Wahlstrom, while also being able to make up for any defensive deficits you could see from Wahlstrom.

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils / Rich Graessle/GettyImages
  1. Anthony Beauvillier - Mathew Barzal - Oliver Wahlstrom
  2. Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
  3. Zach Parise - J.G. Pageau - Josh Bailey
  4. Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Top-6 Heavy

This is a bit of a different look than we're used to seeing regarding the top-6. The lone difference in the bottom-6 is Bailey on the third line. As the third oldest forward in the group, joining Parise and Clutterbuck in the bottom-6 in a lesser role could make for more meaningful shifts for the almost 34-year-old forward.

Shayna Goldman of The Athletic joined Nassaumen Hockey Podcast to discuss how she believes slotting Beauvillier next to Barzal could certainly give him the best opportunity to succeed (at 33:50):

Beauvillier could be the right kind of support for a player like Barzal as the former has similar speed to the latter. Being able to keep pace is half the battle when skating on a line with Barzal, the other is being able to read his playmaking ability and help him fill the net. That's where Wahlstrom comes in as when he was drafted, his shot was already NHL-ready. By the time he had been shifted to Barzal's line in the 2021-22 season, it had been too little, too late. The then 21-year-old forwards confidence was at a low, and although Barzal and Wahlstrom had their moments, not many pucks found the back of the net.

It's tough to say that was completely on Wahlstrom. If he appeared to have a strong game but made one mistake, he was riding the bench or watching from the press box the next game. Although Wahlstrom said he "needed the tough love," it didn't appear to be the best strategy to in terms of teachable moments. Starting Wahlstrom on a line with Barzal and Beauvillier could prove to be a high-powered offensive threat, with the two speedy forwards pushing the pace, and Wahlstrom just needs to find space to shoot the puck.

Does Lambert really want a line that's all shooters? It's not out of the question. Lee and Nelson were reunited as line-mates towards the end of last season and found the chemistry they used to have as part of the "kid line" that featured Ryan Strome when he was with the Islanders. The duo scored a combined 14 goals in the final 28 games and proved to be the Islanders' best offensive threat at 5v5. Adding Palmieri to that situation could make for quite the headache for any opposing goaltender. Nelson can certainly score from anywhere and Lee has no issue parking himself at the top of the crease, while Palmieri knows how to light the lamp from below the dots. A flurry of shots from this group every shift seems like it would be bound to score a time or two each night.

Nashville Predators v New York Islanders
Nashville Predators v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
  1. Anders Lee - Mathew Barzal - Oliver Wahlstrom
  2. Kieffer Bellows - Brock Nelson - Anthony Beauvillier
  3. Josh Bailey - J.G. Pageau - Kyle Palmieri
  4. Zach Parise - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Youth movement

Okay, it's not really a movement, but there's more youth in the top 6. Bellows signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract this summer in order to remain a member of the Islanders. He did play the most games he's played in his NHL career thus far, but didn't do much in terms of earning a raise, yet he did. The Islanders need to know who and what Bellows is to this team, especially since they're paying him above his market value.

Believe it or not, the trio of Nelson, Beauvillier, and Bellows skated for 75:01 together last season and were actually quite successful. According to NaturalStatTrick, the three of them combined for an excellent 59.48 CF%, 75.00 GF%, 62.13 xGF%, and 65.63 HDGF%. It's not the biggest sample size, but those are some pretty convincing numbers to at least try Bellows out with Nelson and Beauvillier once more. Bellows was drafted to be a goal scorer and he's proven his shot is NHL quality. Beauvillier can be a good enough distributor to feed both shooters on the line, and the hope remains Nelson will maintain his 30-goal stature.

The key to Bellows' success could be elevating him rather than looking to make him earn it in the bottom-6 as the opportunities just may not be presenting themselves for him to score in a lesser role. Given his comments over the summer, he at least seems determined enough to prove himself as an impact player:

I mean, I view myself as being a regular in a lineup. That’s what I want to be. I want to be making a big impact from day one. That’s what I plan to do. I plan to be good defensively but also be a big offensive player, use my shot, score some goals for this team.
Kieffer Bellows

In this scenario, Wahlstrom remains on the top line as the trigger man next to Barzal. Lee parking himself in front of the opposition's goaltender while Barzal distributes and Wahlstrom shoots sounds like a recipe for success as if the puck doesn't go in upon initial shot, Lee is there to clean up the rebound.

There's a similar feel on the third line with Bailey distributing, Pageau as the net-front presence, and Palmieri as the lines shooter. It's a line that puts the a few Isles veterans in a lesser role, giving them fresher legs both in-game and season long which, again, could lead to more meaningful shifts on a nightly basis.

The eyebrow-raiser here is Parise on the fourth line. Does Lambert "reward" his hardest worker with a demotion? Well, he has the speed and grit to match the fourth lines checking mentality, and playing on Cizikas' left puts Martin out of the lineup. Overall, it results in a faster lineup, making the Islanders younger and faster.

Training camp is around the corner so time will tell what tricks Lambert has up his sleeve. All we know is right now, the forward group remains the same. The difference in deployment will come if/when the youth forces Lambert to play them more and elevate their roles.

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