3 NY Islanders that have quietly stepped up in the wake of injuries

These Islanders have played with a "next-man up" mentality.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders
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The NY Islanders have had a plethora of injuries throughout the 2023-24 season. The defensive unit has taken the hardest hit, as the opening night roster has rarely seen the ice together. Since then, Scott Mayfield has missed time on two separate occasions, resulting in 15 games lost. Adam Pelech hasn't played since taking an ugly hit against the glass on November 24th. Sebastian Aho has also missed eight games, and Ryan Pulock has been out since December 7th with a lower-body injury. Even newcomer Robert Bortuzzo has been out recently with a lower-body injury taken against the Colorado Avalanche.

As with every professional sports franchise, other players on the roster must step up in the wake of injury or down performances. Noah Dobson has taken the biggest brunt on defense, now averaging just under 26 minutes of ice time per game. Ilya Sorokin has played in seven straight games struggling with his workload. It’s clear that the star players are doing their part in surviving without Pelech, Pulock, and Semyon Varlamov, but which players have gone under the radar during this stretch of games?

1. Samuel Bolduc

When injuries occur early in the season, trade possibilities are limited, leaving teams looking internally for replacements. This was the case following Mayfield’s injury on opening night as Samuel Bolduc was called upon. Through 29 games played, Bolduc has recorded one goal and two assists while blocking 34 shots. He has averaged 13 minutes per game.

Coming off two appearances in the playoffs last season against the Carolina Hurricanes, Lou Lamoriello and Lane Lambert had high hopes for Bolduc in taking that next step as a 23-year-old defenseman. However, Bolduc did not perform well early in October or November, having a -5 rating with just ten shots on net and averaging under ten minutes per game. He's turning the puck over regularly and had miscommunications with Pulock as a defensive pairing.

Suffice it to say, Bolduc has improved immensely with regular playing time in December and January. He has been moving the puck well enough that he has joined the Islanders’ 2nd powerplay unit. All three of Bolduc’s points this season came in the ladder half of December, trusted with 16 minutes of ice time per game in January. His improvement can be directly correlated to the acquisition of Bortuzzo and the return of Mayfield, as their veteran presence has drawn extra attention to detail from the young defenseman.

2. Sebastian Aho

Players are also asked to play out of position when a spot needs filling. With the injuries to right-handed defensemen this season, the Islanders have either been shorthanded or had to seek external options to fill these needs. This has been the case for Aho, as he has been asked to play on the right side of Mike Reilly since returning on December 13th.

In sum, Aho has played in 30 of the Islanders' 39 games this season, 11 of those on his non-dominant side. He has one goal, four assists, and 43 blocked shots, which puts him on pace for the same or better than 2022-23. Viewed as a bottom-pair defenseman, Aho has risen the depth chart without Pelech or Pulock in the lineup.

Aho had never been scouted as a two-way defenseman, nor had he done so professionally before this season. All things considered, he has played well next to Reilly and has never complained or made excuses for playing out of position. While his shot has looked awkward at times, Aho still has been interictal to the rise of Reilly as an offensive-minded defenseman in Lambert’s system. If Aho never rose to the occasion, Lamoriello would have to sacrifice more draft capital to acquire a veteran replacement.

3. Julien Gauthier

The Islanders have had a carousel of bottom-six forwards this season. Matt Martin missed 19 games with an upper-body injury, while Hudson Fasching and Oliver Wahlstrom have struggled to find consistency. With the Bridgeport Islanders having depth in terms of forwards and ready-made prospects, Lambert had no choice but to slot Julien Gauthier next to J.G. Pageau and Simon Holmstrom on the third line.

Gauthier was an afterthought entering training camp this season. Lamoriello signed the 26-year-old right winger to a 2-year contract worth just $1.575 million. Following positive results through pre-season action, Gauthier unseated Ross Johnston as the Isles’ 14th forward on the roster. Gauthier has brought his own level of fight coming off the Islanders bench.

After playing just five games in October and November, Gauthier has now beat out Fasching and Wahlstrom as the Islanders’ 3rd line right winger. Following Martin’s injury, Gauthier received regular playing time and has seen his efforts pay off. He has five goals and three assists in his last 15 games, including 17 shots on goal. Gauthier has shown a great forecheck, which pairs well with Pageau’s aggressive pace of play. The Islanders have needed someone who isn’t afraid to shoot the puck, and Gauthier has proven to be that player.