Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the New York Islanders.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 New York Islanders
The New York Islanders were again lead by John Tavares, who scored 70 points in 78 games. Following him was Kyle Okposo, who had 64 points in 79 games, and Frans Nielsen, who had 52 points in 81 games. Overall, the team had eight players who had 30 points or more.
A total of 20 out of the 33 players who saw NHL ime with the Isles last season were 27 or younger. The team made it into the playoffs, and were able to beat the Florida Panthers, another young team that won the Atlantic Division, in the first round. Although they did make it on a wild card last season, they were only one win away from topping the New York Rangers for third place in their division.
The Islanders made it to the second round of the playoffs last season, only to be defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games. Tavares led the team during the playoffs, netting 11 points in 11 games. Thomas Greiss had to step up as the starting goaltender, after Jaroslav Halak suffered a groin injury that kept him out.
Ladd is, without a doubt, the Islanders best addition during the off-season. The 30-year-old power forward has the ability to fit on the top line. It would not be a surprise to see him and captain Tavares work really well together. Ladd has consistently been able to put up 45-50 points a season. Last year he scored 46 points, split between the Winnipeg Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks. These kind of numbers are what the Islanders need given their off-season losses, and Ladd can also be a leader in the locker room for this young team.
P.A. Parenteau, put up 46 points last season. The high point numbers have not been consistent over his previous seasons, but there is potential to score depending on ice time and linemates. The same goes for Jason Chimera, who had a 40-point season last year with the Capitals, even though he’s 37.
Prince played in his rookie season in 2015-16, getting in a total of 42 games with the Ottawa Senators and the Islanders. In those games, he had 17 points. He could earn a top six forward spot this upcoming season and adds even more potential, in the form of a young player, to an already young team.
Despite the successful signings, the Islanders lost more than they gained, as both Okposo and Nielsen left the team. Okposo had the second most points on the club the last two years and led the team in points in the 2013-14 season. He signed with the Buffalo Sabres and there is definitely a hole in the lineup without him.
Nielsen, who placed third in points on the team last season, signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Nielsen is also a top line forward who the Islanders are going to miss. His two-way play was very important on the Isles second line.
Ryan Strome would be a good candidate to take a bigger role, but he has yet to get a contract. The 23-year-old had 50 points in the 2014-15 season, but only put up 28 last season. Still, he is a good player and has the ability to be a speedy top line forward. Strome should have a contract by the beginning of the season, as the Islanders do have plenty of cap space to sign him.
Andrew Ladd – John Tavares – Ryan Strome
Mathew Barzal, Shane Prince
The team is going to rely on their new players. Ladd will be expected to gel quickly with Tavares. Overall, the success of the pairing will be a key role in how far the Islanders will be able to make it this year.
Parenteau and Chimera will also be relied upon. Parenteau more so than Chimera, as he’ll not only be getting more playing time, but he will most likely be paired with younger players. He’ll have to lead by example.
Mikhail Grabovski‘s injury may open the way to a player like Mathew Barzal getting a chance at a middle six center role to start the season. Barzal, the 16th overall pick in 2015, scored 88 points in 58 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL last season and could be ready to make the jump to the NHL as early as this year. He will have to earn regular minutes though, because if he is not getting ice time, the Islanders will want him back in the WHL. Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle could fight for time on the wings.
Nick Leddy will be looked upon to lead the defence again this season. He spent most of his time paired up with Travis Hamonic last season. That pairing combined totaled 61 points last season with 40 from Leddy. However, Leddy might also be paired up with Boychuk, who had 25 points last season. Either way, Leddy has the power to drive the team far. Despite that, all six defenders will have to bring their A-game to the team this season.
An interesting battle will be the one between Pelech, De Haan, Pulock, and Mayfield. Out of the four, De Haan was the only one to get consistent playing minutes in the NHL last season. Pulock played in 15, Pelech played in nine, and Mayfield only played in six NHL games. None of them really set themselves apart in their opportunities, which makes the choice even harder for the Islanders.
De Haan and Pulock will most likely start the season. Pulock had four points in the games he did play, and it seems as though the Islanders have more confidence in him than they do Mayfield. Unless De Haan or Pulock get hurt, or struggle, it’s unlikely Pelech and Mayfield will see too many NHL appearances this season.
Halak was kept out of the playoffs last season due to a groin injury that ended up requiring surgery. However, he’ll be back at 100 percent by the time the season starts, and he is now playing in the World Cup. He won half of the 36 games he played in last season, and had a save percentage of .919.
If for some reason Halak isn’t able to play the whole season, Greiss is a good backup. Greiss filled in for Halak after the injury, and seemed comfortable in the starter role. He led the team 11 games deep into the playoffs, and ended up placing fifth in minutes played during the playoffs. Because of the high minutes, he also placed fifth in shots against saves, and as luck would have it, goals against. Although the Islanders didn’t make it past the second round, Greiss did have a good postseason.
If all else fails the Islanders have Jean-Francois Berube, who hasn’t seen much NHL time, but when Halak was injured he did fill in as the backup. He didn’t do terrible, going 3-2-1 in seven games, and actually made one of the saves of the year when he dove across the crease to rob the Senators Mark Stone of a goal.
Players to Watch
The Islanders added a lot of new talent to the team, and the three big names that they signed will have to blend well to give the team a chance at the Stanley Cup. Ladd has played for the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Winnipeg Jets over the course of his NHL career. Through those seasons, he has been placed in somewhat similar roles. In the locker room this season, he’s going to have to lead by example. He’s an older player, who is still putting up very good numbers. In such a young locker room, the Islanders could use his experience.
On top of that, his playing style should fit in with Tavares and Strome. He’s a big forward but still a good skater, and he’s always had more assists than he has goals, which should give Strome an opportunity to have a high scoring season.
The other name to watch would be Prince. Moving over to the Islanders from the Senators was a big change. However, he seemed to embrace it well. Prince could have the opportunity to break through offensively this year if he is able to earn a spot in the top nine.
Players on the Rise
Strome should be a name we hear a lot of this season. He had a 50-point season in 2014-15, but only followed it up with a 28-point season last year. Despite that he has the potential to become a star in the league.
When Strome came into the league in 2014-15 it seemed like he was already well adapted to it. However, he struggled to follow up on that, as his game regressed as a sophomore. He is highly talented with soft hands, good vision and a great shot. Strome has a lot of potential and if the Islanders can pair him with the right line, he has the ability to put up a lot of points.
Barzal is one of many big name forwards in the Islanders farm-system right now. Over and over, Barzal has emphasized his dedication to not only becoming a regular on the team, but becoming a star on the team. He could do it. The 19-year-old has put up good numbers in juniors and has shown the ability to be a leader in any locker room he’s been placed in. It’ll probably take him some time to adjust to the NHL, but when he does become a regular, he could drive his line.
Players on the Decline
The Islanders don’t have many declining players, but Grabovski could be classified as one. He hasn’t played more than 60 games in any of the past four seasons. If he were able to stay healthy, he could be a very big key in New York, but that just isn’t seeming very likely anymore. If he doesn’t play at least 70 games this next season or in 2017-18, it’ll be interesting to see how the Islanders go about re-signing him, if at all.
Kulemin is also somewhat declining due to age. The speedy forward just hit 30, and it’s not really known how much more NHL time he could see in New York, with so many good players itching for a spot on the Islanders. He’s a relatively consistent player, getting anywhere from 20-30 points a season, but so many players in the Islanders system have the ability to come to the NHL and produce more. Because of this, Kulemin might be a part of a trade or let go in the 2018 off-season.
2016-17 Season Predictions
If all goes well for the Islanders, they will have no problem placing at least third in their division. However for this to happen the youngsters need to come through. Strome needs to find his groove, while depth offense from the likes of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey will be needed for the season to go well.
If all this can come true, and the team stays healthy, they stand a chance at finally breaking through in the playoffs and making an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final. They will need to get past the Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins in order to get there in the tough Metropolitan Division. It’s probably not likely that the Islanders will win the Stanley Cup next season, but in 2017-18, and 2018-19, they shouldn’t be completely exclude them from the talks.