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The emergence of a young NY Islanders forwards is needed to keep contending window open

By Christopher Lizza
New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils / Rich Graessle/GettyImages
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A significant key to the NY Islanders' short- and long-term success is that they'll need some of their young forwards to develop into impact NHLers. The Islanders haven't had the best track record in recent history in drafting and developing their own, but if they want to keep their window to compete open, they're going to need some of those young legs in the pipeline to break the NHL roster.

In terms of young forwards emerging this season, the Isles will look towards Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows to be one of those emerging players much like how Noah Dobson did so last season. Looking to the future, Aatu Räty and William Dufour have already changed their narratives as they appear to be legitimate prospects, but they'll still need to get it done at the highest level.

Short-Term

It's no secret how deep the Eastern Conference has become as you could make an argument any team could claim a postseason spot. Last year the Washington Capitals secured the last playoff spot in the East and they had 100 Points.

If the Isles are going to make it back to the postseason they will have to unseat one of the last year's 100-Point Eastern Conference teams and additionally hold off improved clubs such as the Columbus Blue Jackets (Johnny Gaudreau) and the Ottawa Senators (Alex DeBrincat, Cam Talbot, Claude Giroux) who both finished below the Isles last year.

After only scoring 2.79 goals per game last season, it's obvious the Islanders need more punch on offense. Wahlstrom will be given the opportunity at training camp to become a regular in the top six, however, he'll need to prove to Lane Lambert that what Barry Trotz was worried about regarding his game is a thing of the past. If Wahlstrom can take the same leap forward that the Isles saw Dobson make last season, it would certainly inject that offense the Islanders are looking for and could catapult the Islanders into a contender if all of their other team strengths remain intact.

Bellows will enter training camp on the outside looking in and should arrive with the mindset that he has something to prove. He'll head to training camp fighting for a spot in the Islanders' top 12 claiming he knows he can be an impact player on a nightly basis.

"I mean, I view myself as being a regular in a lineup. That’s what I want to be. I want to be making a big impact from day one. That’s what I plan to do. I plan to be good defensively but also be a big offensive player, use my shot, score some goals for this team."

Kieffer Bellows

If he doesn't win a spot out of camp, Bellows will likely start the season as an extra forward. Injuries happen, so odds are Bellows will get another chance to prove himself at some point during the season. If that happens and if Bellows wants to continue having an NHL career, he'll need to make it tough for Lambert to take him out of the lineup. Bellows's potential could translate to improving the Islanders' bottom-six forward group, especially since we already know he can score.

Long-Term

In addition to Wahlstrom and Bellows, the Islanders' two top prospects are both forwards in Räty and Dufour and after turning some heads over the last year, both of them may not be that far away from the NHL.

The Islanders have five forwards from their starting lineup who become unrestricted free agents within the next two years. Zach Parise is on a one-year deal this season and while he had a very productive year last season, he did turn 38 over the summer. Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin all have contracts that expire in two summers, so you could see a path for Räty and Dufour to play for the varsity Islanders sooner rather than later.

Beauvillier needs to show that last year (12 Goals, 34 Points) was a blip on the radar. He's another player that the Islanders need to develop into a nightly impact player that doesn't go on long stretches missing from the score sheet. If all goes right and Beauvillier does in fact find his footing, the Islanders' core is still pretty young and Räty and Dufour's development is crucial to add to the already young core.

Anders Lee will be 32 at the start of camp and Brock Nelson turns 31 in mid-October. While both players' production is still strong (Nelson is coming off his best offensive year, 37 Goals, 59 Points) odds are after the next two seasons their production will start to decline a bit as they approach their mid-thirties, not everyone can age as gracefully as Joe Pavelski.

The emergence of youth within the Islanders organization has presented itself before in the form of Beauvillier, Dobson, Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and more. Now, they face a small window where if the dominos don't all fall at the right time, the direction of the organization could change paths. As of now, the development of Räty and Dufour looks good and they'll have to hope it continues in an upward direction. But, the Islanders have two young forwards in Wahlstrom and Bellows who's opportunities are knocking, and they'll need to answer the door if the Islanders hope to have an improved offense in the 2022-23 season.

Next. OTD in Islanders history: Rick DiPietro signs a 15-year contract to cap off a bizarre summer on Long Island. dark

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