NY Islanders D Adam Pelech needs healthy season to return to old self

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Islanders - Game Four
Carolina Hurricanes v New York Islanders - Game Four / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The ascent of Adam Pelech into one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL was as quick as it was unexpected. As Pelech took his game to the next level, the New York Islanders became one of the best-structured defensive teams in the league. That doesn't happen without Pelech evolving from a nice young player on the blue line to part of a shutdown pair with D Ryan Pulock

After matching up against the opposing team's best lines during two deep playoff runs, GM Lou Lamoriello prioritized paying Pelech, signing him to an eight-year extension worth $5.75 million annually. His offensive stats didn't correlate to that price tag, but the advanced analytics and eye-test proved his value as he finished 17th in Norris Trophy voting after the 2020-21 season.

Despite the team's COVID-impacted struggles the following year, Pelech was an All-Star for the first time, solidifying his status as a top-pair defenseman. However, the last two years have been a struggle for Pelech as he's battled both bad luck and bad injuries to find his All-Star form.

He suffered an injury in Washington that forced him to miss games and then was placed on LTIR after another injury soon-thereafter in Ottawa. "The first half was definitely tough with injuries back to back to back," said Pelech on clean-out day. "It's always tough when you're injured at the start because then you come back and almost feel behind. Everyone else spent the last two months while you've been nursing an injury."

If Pelech didn't look himself it's because he wasn't. He was still working his way back when he took an elbow to the head from Montreal's Brendan Gallagher before the All-Star break. It was the second consecutive season with a head injury for Pelech, and his game understandably took a step back because of it. His contract, which, at the time, was looked at unanimously as a good deal for both sides, is not among those fans lump together with the "bad" long-term contracts the roster is saddled with in upcoming years.

He didn't resemble the defenseman we had grown accustomed to for three seasons, but there were positive strides in the final weeks as he and the team adapted to the new defensive system installed by head coach Patrick Roy. "I think once Patty came, the second half of the season, I started to play better, feel more like myself," Pelech said. "Towards the end, heading into the playoffs, I was pretty happy with it, but as a whole, I definitely like to be more consistent and stay healthy all season."

Currently, there's not an expectation for Pelech to return to his All-Star form, but he needs to be better for this team to improve next season. That can happen if the 29-year-old can remain healthy, but the previous two seasons have proved that can be a very big if, indeed.