There's been a real lack of stability on the New York Islanders top line all year long. With Jordan Eberle leaving in the Seattle expansion draft, there's been a gap on the right side of Barzal's line from day one on the season.
Barry Trotz has tried a number of options next to Barzal and nothing has seemingly stuck. Today, Barzal himself was asked about the revolving row of wingers, and his answer was, well, about as good as you'd expect.
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal on creating chemistry
All Barzal wants is chemistry. He wants to have someone on his wing that he can gel with. Something that anyone can tell you, takes time. Chemistry requires stability. This isn't a one-shift, one-game type of situation. It's going to take some time for Barzal and whatever winger is placed on his right side to create some chemistry.
So far this year, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey have been basically stapled to Barzal's wing. At 5on5, Lee and Barzal have shared the ice for 310:22 minutes (more shared ice time with Barzal than anyone else on the team) and Josh Bailey for 210:31 minutes (third most for anyone else on the team).
Time on ice data from NaturalStatTrick.
And that trio hasn't exactly been lights out. This is why Barry is moving pieces around. Barzal has spent time with Zach Parise (80:10), Kyle Palmieri (77:09), Richard Panik (36:52), Anthony Beauvillier (34:43), Kieffer Bellows (33:51), Oliver Wahlstrom (29:10). And then obviously a bunch of players with a few minutes here and there which could be attributed to overlapping shifts and so on.
Bellows was up there for a game and Trotz found there wasn't a spark so off he went. Parise was put up there because of how well he's been playing of late, but he wasn't able to get things turned around. Which is unfair to ask of him. He's on a league-minimum deal to be an effective depth piece. Leading the line offensively shouldn't be something Parise needs to do.
Richard Panik who was called up from the AHL for COVID cover has more shared 5on5 with Barzal than two guys you'd expect to get a shot at establishing some sort of chemistry with Barzal: Beauvillier and Wahlstrom.
I understand Barry Trotz's hesitancy with Beauvillier or even Wahlstrom. Beau and Nelson have been an effective pairing since 2018-19, breaking that up now might cause more issues than it fixes. While Wahlstrom hasn't consistently performed at the standard Trotz expects from him.
But it really seems like either is the right call to play on the top line. We know that Barzal and Beauvillier have a solid relationship and we know they've played well in the past.
Wahlstrom's case is less obvious. The two don't have the same sample of shared ice-time to draw from. But from a stylistic point of view, the matchup works. Barzal is an elite pass-first center that creates on the rush and opens up a lot of ice for his wingers. Wahlstrom has an elite shot, also creates on the rush, and is a volume shooter. That's what you call a perfect match.
Again, I get why Barry isn't playing either of them with Barzal but at this point, they're the only options left without moving bodies all over the lineup. Trotz has to put one of them up there and stick with it for a few games to really let the chemistry settle in.