If there’s a team to get excited about for 2015-2016, it’s the New York Islanders. They finished the 2014-2015 season with a 47-28-7 record and fought hard against the Washington Capitals in the first round of the post-season, eventually losing in seven games. They scored 245 goals in the regular season and allowed 224, picking off a 25-14-2 record at home.
Of course, “home” will mean a very different thing in 2015-2016. The Islanders will leave the confines of the Nassau Coliseum after 43 years and will take to the ice at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This change does suggest an adjustment period for the team, but it also speaks to new beginnings. The Islanders will have every chance to make a go of it.
They’ll also have every chance to prove themselves as Garth Snow’s team. Including captain John Tavares, the Islanders will potentially have more than 10 players on the roster that were drafted by Snow since he took the controls for the 2008 rebuild. This is a young, exciting team. With Tavares not even 25 years of age yet, there’s a lot to like about New York’s chances.
The linchpin for the Islanders is obviously the aforementioned Tavares. He had 86 points in 82 games last season, including 38 goals – 13 of which were on the power play. Tavares had 278 shots on goal and averaged over 20 minutes of ice time a night, showing off his top-tier talents in all game situations. If there’s a knock on Tavares, it’s in the speed department.
Anders Lee is among those expected to skate with Tavares this season. The 25-year-old from Edina had 25 goals in his rookie season and can fire the puck, registering 197 shots on goal in 76 games. He averaged over 14 minutes a game and is a big skater, even if he can fumble a little without the puck. Brock Nelson is another consideration for Long Island. He had 20 goals last season for a total of 42 points and can get busy around the net.
Kyle Okposo continues to find the scoreboard, if inconsistently. He had 18 goals in 60 games last season and is the top-charted right winger, but Ryan Strome could give him a run for his money. The 22-year-old registered 50 points in 81 games last season and enjoyed a terrific first round in the playoffs. He has offensive gifts galore and should be a solid presence on the Islanders for years to come.
Defensively, the Islanders could theoretically struggle. They boast a unit that begins with Johnny Boychuk, which isn’t a bad thing, but they have struggled in their own end. The 31-year-old blueliner joined the squad in 2014 after a trade with the Bruins and had nine goals last season (five of them were on the power play) for a total of 35 points in 72 games. He averaged 21:40 per game in the regular season and 26 minutes a game in the post-season.
Nick Leddy was another 2014 addition and he’s a nice fit for this hockey club. He proved himself with a 37-point campaign last season, averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time a game with an upgrade to nearly 25 minutes a game in the playoffs. Leddy is a great skater with the ability to lead the rush, which should help fuel this attack.
Travis Hamonic continues to patrol the blueline since being drafted by the Islanders in 2008. He had 33 points last season in 71 games and can be a reliable shutdown defenceman. 24-year-old Carp native Calvin De Haan had a dozen points in 65 games and continues to develop into a solid two-way player, while Thomas Hickey is another factor. The 26-year-old can move the biscuit and plays sound hockey in his own end.
Jaroslav Halak landed in New York by way of Washington in 2014 and put up a solid performance, finishing with a 38-17-4 record with a .914 save percentage. He was even better in the post-season, despite not getting the series win, with a .926 save percentage against the Capitals. Halak is a quality starting netminder in the NHL and he’ll give the Islanders a chance to win every single night.
Thomas Greiss is the backup. The 29-year-old German netminder is a stellar puck-stopper and he put up some serious numbers in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine Greiss moving beyond the backup position any time soon and his upside is somewhat limited. He’s solid in a support role, so New York should be fine as long as Halak is healthy.
Snow’s drafting has quite frankly been a thing of beauty since 2008 and this team is now a testament to how well he’s done over the years. Consider 2015, where he packaged up a series of trades to get not one but two first round draft picks. Going into the draft, he had no first-rounders. One of those picks was Matthew Barzal, who would’ve gone in the top 10 were it not for a broken kneecap he suffered in November. The Islanders are very high on Barzal and we’re about to find out why.
Defenceman Ryan Pulock looks to be ready to rumble. The 2013 first round selection practiced with the Islanders in the post-season and has been impressive in Bridgeport. Long Island expects him to land with the big club this season, which is a good thing. Pulock has a terrific point shot and can change the tide of a game with his straightforward approach to defensive hockey.
The Path Ahead
This is an exciting team, one that may finally be ready to reap the whirlwind from within. Snow has done a masterful job putting the Islanders together with smart drafting and patient trading. He’s learned his lessons well, too, and seems ready to take this franchise to the next level. Long Island has some cap space going into the regular season, which means they’ll be able to address any needs on the fly.
The Islanders should be playoff-bound once again and they could make a splash if their goaltending holds up. They’ve got plenty of forward depth and scoring capabilities, with their defence looking less than stellar on paper. There are some game-changing blueliners in the system, though, and now’s as good a time as any to prove the cynics wrong.