Through most of the struggles the NY Islanders endured last season, fourth-year defenseman Noah Dobson received the brunt of the criticism handed down from the fan base. As a former twelfth-overall pick, there are expectations of Dobson to develop into a reputable mainstay along the team's blue line.
Following the 2021-22 season, Dobson was praised for his performance, topping the 50-point mark, scoring 13 goals and adding 38 assists. It seemed he had his breakthrough, placing lofty expectations on the then 22-year-old for the following season.
When the Islanders looked to be a team set to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year, Dobson was rebuked for lackluster play on both ends of the ice. There's untapped potential in Dobson yet to be seen, as he was unjustly criticized for his 2022-23 performance.
Not set to turn 24 until January, Dobson still has age on his side, especially for a defenseman. As history has shown us, defensemen typically take longer to develop as opposed to forwards - especially defensemen with size.
"Too much criticism has been of Dobson," Lou Lamoriello said at his end-of-season press conference. "Look at his point production, very similar to last year, and I think we put a lot of high expectations on him. People look at him (and) give him more attention."
If we look back at the developmental arc of Victor Hedman, his offensive numbers weren't near what they are now during his first few seasons. Drafted second overall in 2009, Hedman began his NHL career the following year as an 18-year-old. Failing to break the 30-point mark in his first four seasons, Hedman finally did so in his fifth year (22 years old), totaling 55. He wouldn't do so again for three years, finishing with a staggering 72 during his breakout offensive season (25 years old). Since then, he's been putting up elite numbers every year.
Dobson is not Hedman, nor should he be expected to be - but after four seasons and only 23 years old, Dobson has a 51-point and 49-point season already under his belt. His trajectory over the last two seasons is right where it needs to be, as his 49 points last season were good enough for 21st among defensemen in the league and most for an Islanders defenseman since Mark Streit. Sure, it's not elite-level production, but very few players are putting up through-the-roof numbers.
Though Dobson may have unjustly become the unofficial whipping child of the Islanders' poor mid-season form, it does not mean his game should go uncriticized. He had his fair share of lapses on the defensive end, to the point where Lane Lambert called him out during a February practice.
Dobson constantly personifies a calm demeanor almost to a fault. He's so stoic at times it seems he's disengaged. Lambert attempted once to light a fire under his top offensive threat from the blue line, and perhaps Lambert, along with Dobson's teammates, ought to do it more often as it may wind up being to everyone's benefit.