We're into the final month of the 2021-22 NHL season. Right now the fan base is focused on the New York Islanders ability to make the playoffs. It will be a tough climb, but if they keep winning and a few things break their way they just might do it.
The odds are understandably short for the Isles. We've all written off the season a month or two ago, and for good reason. The hole was just too large to climb out of. So, assuming they don't actually climb out of that hole and make the playoffs, the focus has to be on next year.
And that means looking at a few players who will have important roles next year to end this season on a strong note.
New York Islanders: 3 players that must hit another gear in final month
The 2018 first-rounder has had a better year statistically with 13 goals and 24 points in 62 games. But his point pace has taken a hit since that rookie year in 2020-21. He's got two points in his last three games, but we still need to see more from Wahlstrom.
Next year could be a big year if he's allowed to continue developing chemistry with Barzal. But that opportunity might not happen if Wahlstrom doesn't end the year well.
After a hyper-productive week at the start of March (seven points in four games), Bailey has dropped off with three points in his following eleven games. Bailey has looked virtually anonymous out there of late. That, obviously, has to change.
If Bailey can't be a productive middle six player down the stretch the Islanders might offload that $5 million salary as they search to retool the lineup in 2022-23.
There's going to be at least one opening on the Islanders blue line next season. One of these guys has to show they can take it.
Aho, who's facing group six UFA status, needs to step it up. If not for his Islanders future at least for his NHL future. The same can be said of Grant Hutton who was brought to the Islanders as a college UFA.
Robin Salo has a higher ceiling than both players but has struggled to stand out lately at the AHL level. When emergency call-ups needed to be made the Isles pulled Parker Wotherspoon and Grant Hutton before Salo. He's got to step it up or he might find himself in Bridgeport another year.