In what was a disappointing season for many New York Islanders, defenseman Noah Dobson emerged as a breakout star. At the ripe age of 22 years old, the Prince Edward Island native took major steps toward becoming a dynamic and indispensable piece of the Islanders' future.
Throughout last season, Dobson showcased the skillset the organization envisioned when he was selected 12th overall in 2018 out of the QMJHL. In the 80 games he played across his first two NHL seasons, Dobson scored 21 points (4G, 17A). He would more than double that total after finding his stride and confidence during the second half of the season.
After rounding out the defensive unit last season with Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene, Dobson was expected to take on a big role within the offense. Along with Chara and Greene - Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock are not necessarily known for their offensive contributions, so Dobson was counted on to pick up the slack.
Like most Islanders, Dobson got off to a slow start during the team's 13-game road trip to begin the season. On October 24th, against the Vegas Golden Knights, Dobson logged a season-low 14:00 of ice time. Shortly after, on November 15th, Barry Trotz, made Dobson a healthy scratch against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pulock suffered an injury that game forcing Dobson back into the lineup and into an expanded role. The following night, Dobson stepped onto the ice for a season-high, 32 shifts against the Florida Panthers.
Right around Valentine's Day is when Dobson began to kick his game into high gear. Appearing in 80 games throughout the season, Dobson registered only 19 points in his first 40 games played. Thereafter, he managed to get his name on the score sheet 32 times in the final 40 games, finishing the season with 51 points.
From the midseason on, Dobson began to perform as the top-pairing offensive-defenseman that Lou Lamoriello and the rest of the front office hoped he would become. As our own James Nichols points out, Dobson was the first Islanders defenseman to eclipse the 50-point mark since Mark Streit in 2008-09. Nichols also gave Dobson a B+ grade for his performance throughout the season.
The way the game is played now, it takes defensemen more time to develop than it does forwards - especially bigger defensemen. There are obviously some with high expectations that never pan out and then there are others who just need more time to adjust to the speed and flow of the game.
When former Norris Trophy winner, Victor Hedman, entered the league, it took him almost four years to finally gain a stronghold within the NHL. It took Hedman until his fifth season to finally eclipse the 50-point mark and it wasn't until his eighth season that he did it for a second time.
Another former Norris Trophy winner and cross-town rival, Adam Fox, has proven that he is amongst the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. During Fox's rookie season at 22 years old, he finished the campaign with 42 points in 70 games - slightly below the pace of Dobson at the same age. Fox also gained some extra experience playing NCAA hockey, which consists of the biggest, stronger players than the QMJHL.
None of this is to say that Dobson is going to become as dominant as Hedman or as offensively skilled as Fox, but when you look at where he stands at his current age, an argument can be made that he is further along in his development.
Stepping into next season, Dobson will be counted on to take his game even a step further. It appears as though his blue line partner will be either Alexander Romanov or Pelech. Both contribute more within their own zone as opposed to the offensive end, which could free up Dobson to become more of a playmaker along the blue line.
Heading into his first season as head coach, Lane Lambert will aim to keep Dobson on the upward trajectory he's on. There is still room to improve consistency and soundness in the defensive zone, but it will be interesting to see how much more freedom Dobson has to create offensively under a new coach.
If Dobson can continue along the path he is currently on and manages to top the 60-point plateau, he would be the first Islander to do so since three-time Norris Trophy Winner and Hall-of-Famer, Denis Potvin, did so in the 1984-85 season. The Islanders have been looking for a top-caliber defenseman for decades, and look to have finally hit their mark.