Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 28: New York Islanders Center Mathew Barzal (13) enters Montreal Canadiens zone with the puck during the New York Islanders versus the Montreal Canadiens game on February 28, 2018, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where the Last Word on Hockey 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 New York Islanders.

Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 New York Islanders

Previous Year

A year with high expectations fell short for the 2018-19 New York Islanders. Finishing the season with a record of 35-37-10, the Islanders would miss the playoffs. A total of 80 points had the team from New York missing the postseason by 17 points behind the New Jersey Devils. The 2017-18 season was the first time the Islanders won less than 40 games since 2013-14.

Despite a mediocre record as a team, there were individuals that brought a great deal of spotlight to Long Island.

The leader of the positives for the Islanders was rookie sensation and Calder trophy winner, Mathew Barzal. In Barzal’s first season in the NHL, he recorded a total of 85 points. He accomplished the feat by way of 22 goals and 63 assists. While his totals were enough to lead the NHL rookie scoring, he led the Islanders in points as well.

While many suspected it to be his final year, John Tavares finished a single point behind Barzal for the team lead. The now-former captain also finished second on the team in goals with 37, a career high. Tavares added 47 assists, finishing with his highest point total since the 2014-15 season when he finished with 86.

On the topic of career years, Josh Bailey hit career highs in both goals and assists. Scoring 18 goals and adding 53 assists, Bailey put up 71 points. Another career high. Anders Lee scored 40 goals for the first time in his career.

What Went Wrong?

The offence on Long Island was not the problem, finishing 8th in the league in goals scored (264). What fell short for the Islanders was their back-end.

Defensemen such as Nick Leddy really struggled. While scoring 42 points, Leddy fell short in his defensive game, finishing the season at a -42. His Corsi-For was just 46.9 percent and his relative Corsi a -1.2.

In addition to Leddy’s struggles, the goaltending situation in New York was also sub-par. Starter Jaroslav Halak finished with a losing record of 20-26-6. His goals-against average finished at 3.19, supported by an okay save percentage of 0.908%.

Back-up Thomas Greiss also struggled in the crease. Despite having a winning record of 13-8-2 his individual numbers are less than desired. His goals-against average was close to four goals a game and his save percentage is below .900 at .892.

The Islanders finished 31st in the NHL in goals against, surrendering 296 goals on the year.

Off-Season

The off-season for the Islanders started no differently than it did for the other 30 teams in the NHL, with the draft. The special part about the draft for New York was who lead the charge. The first draft lead by newly appointed president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello.

The Islanders made two selections in the first round, marking the beginning of a new era for the team. Choosing back-to-back at 11th and 12th, the Islanders drafted forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson. The Islanders also drafted now OHL-bound defenseman Bode Wilde, who recently committed to the Saginaw Spirit. The Islanders also selected Ruslan Iskhakov, Jakub Skarek, Jake Pivonka, Blade Jenkins, and Christian Krygier as LWOH’s Ben Kerr gave them an A+ draft grade.

Big Club Additions and Losses

In addition to the draft, the Islanders also added multiple key players to their roster during the off-season. Veteran forwards Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov both signed deals with the Islanders. Goaltender Robin Lehner also came to an agreement with the team to fill the void left behind by now Boston Bruins backup, Jaroslav Halak. The team also reacquired forward Matt Martin in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Captain John Tavares left the club, signing with the Leafs. While defenseman Calvin de Haan joined the Carolina Hurricanes.

Front Office Overhaul

While the on-ice look of the Islanders shifted a great deal, the office side of things changed just as drastically. As mentioned, Lou Lamoriello was named the president of hockey operations and general manager in late May. His assistant, Steve Pellegrini was named to his role on June 12th. The director of goaltending role was given to Mitch Korn and Piero Greco was named the team’s goaltending coach.

On the coaching side of things, some massive and instrumental changes also occurred. Recent Stanley Cup-winning coach, Barry Trotz was introduced as the head coach on June 21st. His assistant was named on July 18th, filled by recent OHL Championship winning coach John Gruden.

Projected Lineup

Offence

Anders LeeMathew BarzalJordan Eberle

Andrew LaddBrock NelsonJosh Bailey

Anthony BeauvillierJan Kovar/Casey CizikasLeo Komarov

Matt Martin–  Kovar/CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Extras: Valtteri Filppula, Ross Johnston

Defence

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk

Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Adam Pelech – Devon Toews

Extras: Scott Mayfield

Goaltenders

Robin Lehner

Thomas Greiss

Players to Watch

Key players for the 2018-19 New York Islanders are present throughout the entire roster. From forwards to defence, numerous players are playing with a spotlight focused on them.

Mathew Barzal

The major focus in New York this season will be on how they perform without former captain Tavares. The answer lies in Mathew Barzal. Barzal will be the topic of a lot of discussions this season and has already had his name thrown around for captaincy considerations.

After his 85 point campaign last season, the first question will be can he replicate such an accomplishment. The answer to that question is found in his linemates, Lee and Eberle. Both of whom had productive seasons last year on the wing of Tavares, and will almost certainly need the same productivity alongside “the Islanders new number one centre.” Bailey could also fight for time on the line.

Johnny Boychuk

The next player to watch is defenseman Johnny Boychuk.

Following off-season surgery, it is a concern on whether or not Boychuk can return to his form that has been so successful for the Islanders. In the recent past, it has been a go-to pairing to have Boychuk alongside Leddy. Such a pairing is vital to the success of the Islanders, even if that success is a year or two away.

Robin Lehner

Signing only a one year deal with the Islanders this summer, it is clear that Lehner is playing for a contract. This season will be big for the Swedish goalie as a result. In addition, the Islanders really have not seen a successful goaltender in quite some time. While it is clear that Lehner has not been the best goaltender statistically, he may provide consistency to a new and young Islanders squad. Lehner performed well, at times, behind a leaky Buffalo Sabres defence.

Season Predictions

It will not be getting any easier for the fans on Long Island this year, but it will begin to look upwards as the season progresses. It is more than likely that the Islanders will miss the playoff for the third consecutive season, but what looks like a loss has some positives.

This Islanders roster will not have a lot of pressure to succeed. Of course with Lamoriello in charge, the demand for success will always be present, but not as crucial as the demands for a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In addition, this will give younger players a larger stage to perform on, with the likes of Joshua Ho-Sang, Kieffer Bellows, and Anthony Beauvillier also in the system.

It may seem as if the season is already a write-off, but it is simply the first step in the new rebuilding process that the 2018-19 Islanders are taking a part of.

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