Underrated Simon Holmstrom is Key to Strong Top-Nine for the NY Islanders

While Holmstrom proved to be a terrific defensive winger last season, some more offense would be a welcome addition from the former first-round draft pick.
Simon Holmstrom's smooth skating and strong two-way play make him an effective complement to stars like Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal.
Simon Holmstrom's smooth skating and strong two-way play make him an effective complement to stars like Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The NY Islanders roster looks strong overall entering this season, including arguably the NHL’s best goaltending tandem and a strong defense corps. The team has more depth at center than most other NHL teams. Depth on the wings, however, is not one of the team’s strengths. The lack of depth up front and on the power play is likely to be the scapegoat should this upcoming season go south.

Fortunately, the Islanders have a few young prospects on the way with some promise in this area. While overage junior stars William Dufour and Matthew Maggio typically get the most attention from fans and the media, there is another young winger who is being overlooked and stands to benefit from the experience he got last season. Simon Holmstrom, surprisingly selected 23rd overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, looks ready to reach another level. That breakout could not come at a better time for the Islanders.

Last season, the Islanders had the league’s third-worst power play, with only the bottom-feeding Ducks and Flyers looking up at the Islanders. The postseason saw the power play exploited even further, scoring at a 5.56% clip against Carolina. For the record, the second-worst power play in the postseason belonged to the Colorado Avalanche, who doubled the Islanders’ success rate with an 11.1% conversion rate. Suffice to say that a successful 2023-2024 season rests on an improved power play.

Enter 22-year old Simon Holmstrom. In the Islanders' 2-1 victory over the division-rival Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, Holmstrom was given a shot on the top line to see whether he can be a solid complement to Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat. Not only did he score his first goal of the preseason while adding an assist, but he looked more than comfortable flanking the Isles’ star forwards. It would not be a shock to see Holmstrom start the season on the first line.

Last season, while Holmstrom only scored six goals in fifty games, his 5v5 shooting percentage was 5.6%, while his overall shooting percentage was 15.6% and his career AHL shooting percentage is 12.3%. Suffice to say that regression to the mean should lead to more offense from Holmstrom moving forward. Additionally, Holmstrom’s expected goals-for percentage at even-strength (5v5 xGF%) last season was 51.6%, which is an encouraging number.

The main problem, however, is that in fifty games, Holmstrom only registered 39 shots on goal. Holmstrom needs to strive to shoot the puck at least once or twice per game, but with more ice time in the top six, he will likely be in position to fire the puck on net more than he has in the past. If Holmstrom can maintain an xGF% of 50% or higher in the top six, the offense will come as he continues to develop.

It is a concern that Holmstrom only scored 27 goals in 154 career AHL games, but Holmstrom was always going to be a long-term development project, and while he is unlikely to ever score 20 or 30 goals in a season, double-digit goals to go along with solid two-way play is not an unreasonable expectation moving forward for Holmstrom.

Simon Holmstrom, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee
Simon Holmstrom, Anders Lee, and Mathew Barzal celebrating a power play goal, which will need to be a regular occurrence in 2023-2024. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Holmstrom’s ascension in the lineup would have a positive snowball effect as well. If Holmstrom can comfortably handle LW1 minutes, it would allow captain Anders Lee to settle into the middle six, saving his strength and keeping him fresh for the power play. At this stage in his career, Lee is best suited for fewer even-strength minutes, and Lee’s power play prowess is essential for the Islanders if they are going to bounce back this season.

The Islanders are entering this season with high hopes. Their goaltending is elite, the defense is solid from top to bottom, and they have depth up the middle. The main question mark is whether they have enough offensive depth on the wings to ice a satisfactory power play and score enough secondary offense to win games. Holmstrom’s demonstrated two-way play, skating ability, and room for growth give the Islanders hope that this secondary offense will come internally. Watch for Holmstrom to crack double digits in goals and remain a dependable two-way player who can be trusted on the ice in all situations, which would be a welcome outcome for Holmstrom’s development.