After the NY Islanders waived Ross Johnston on Monday, who was claimed by the Anaheim Ducks, it was all but official that Simon Holmstrom would be on the opening night roster. Playing alongside Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal for much of training camp, Holmstrom lined up on the first line again at practice today after officially being recalled from Bridgeport.
The coaching staff sees something they like with Holmstrom playing with two of the team's best offensive players, but how long will this line remain intact?
Making his NHL debut last season, appearing in 50 games, Holmstrom wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, scoring just six goals and adding three assists. The question remains if Holmstrom can keep up offensively with Horvat and Barzal.
Horvat was on a 50-goal pace before his trade to the Islanders, and Barzal is a wizard with the puck on his stick. Despite being a first-round pick, Holmstrom's offense has been limited. It's clear that Barzal would much rather pass the puck than shoot, even though he's been making more of an effort to get the puck towards the net in pre-season. As a distributor, it would be assumed playing with two goal-scorers would be the most effective formula for success on the top line, which is part of why Horvat and Barzal played so well with one another in the little time they've had together.
On the other hand, with two stars on the line, someone needs to do the dirty work. One thing Holmstrom has brought to the table since his debut is his work rate. He's played on all four lines and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty, which some players tend to stray away from.
"He's played well," said Lane Lambert, referring to Holmstrom's time in camp. "I think that, for the most part, he's a pretty good fit there."
Lambert sees a role for Holmstrom on the first line despite not seeing time on either power play. But with Oliver Wahlstrom still working his way back from off-season knee surgery, he'll be waiting in the wings for a roster spot and would surely jump at the opportunity to play with Horvat and Barzal.
Becoming a 40-goal scorer would be a welcome surprise from the Isles, but that's not likely to happen. The more opportunities Holmstriom can capitalize on, the longer he'll remain in that role. Running with the opportunity given will allow the Isles much more depth throughout all four lines.