If nothing else, the New York Islanders will boast an impressive top line in 2017-2018. The club acquired forward Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers and will stick him with John Tavares and winger Anders Lee, who came up with a career-high 34 goals last season.
“We’ve played together at the World Juniors when we were a lot younger,” Eberle said of Tavares. “We’ve played at World Championships together. Obviously, John is a generational player and a guy who thinks the game at a very high level and he’s obviously the leader of that team. I’m excited to hopefully get an opportunity to get a chance to play with him and hopefully bring some success to the Islanders.”
Long Island is hoping the renewed top line will push them over the top and into the post-season. They were a point shy of making the playoffs last season, so it may not take much to nudge this group to the dance. They will be without top defenceman Travis Hamonic, who was traded to the Flames, but there’s still a lot to like about this group.
Tavares has seen a dip in production over the last two seasons and may be trending downward, but the arrival of head coach Doug Weight may have changed things. The 26-year-old had 34 points in 35 games after the coaching change and finished last season with 66 points in 77 games. Tavares is the franchise for New York and should see a boost in fortune thanks to Eberle.
27-year-old Eberle is expected to give the Islanders a kick in the pants. He had 51 points in 80 games last season and produced 14 points on the power play. The Regina native spent most of his time on the second unit and was out of the spotlight given Connor McDavid’s heroics. As Tavares’ linemate and a fixture on the top power play unit, he’ll be a potent threat capable of tabling 70 points.
Lee has NHL size at 6’3, 228 pounds. He can protect the puck and maintain possession, but he saw an offensive explosion last season and put up 34 goals in 81 games. The 27-year-old skated with Tavares and Josh Bailey and should be back on the top line in 2017-2018. With Eberle in the fold, Lee will be yet another beneficiary. With a bit more power play time, the Edina native could have another career year.
Bailey had 56 points last season, including 13 goals and 43 assists. He averaged 18:22 of ice time and spent the majority of the year on the top line. He has top-tier offensive skills and is a reliable defensive player, which makes him a well-rounded threat at any forward position. He won’t get as much ice time in 2017-2018, but the 27-year-old should still chip in secondary scoring.
Johnny Boychuk averaged 20:43 of ice time a game last season and put up 23 points in 66 games. The Edmonton native is a potent power play threat because of his booming shot and his numbers could go up given the addition of Eberle. The 33-year-old has never scored more than nine goals in a season, however, and it’s a reach to suggest that his offensive totals will tip the scales.
Nick Leddy, on the other hand, can put up offensive totals. The 26-year-old had 46 points in 81 games last season. He averaged 22:43 of ice time a game and registered 137 shots on goal. Three of his 11 goals came on the power play. The book on Leddy is that he’s a top 20 defenceman and, yes, the addition of Eberle will only help in that regard.
The Islanders like rookie Ryan Pulock and that could translate to a full-time spot on the roster this season. The 22-year-old has limited NHL experience at 16 games, but he has a tremendous shot and can chip in on the power play. New York hasn’t forgotten his stint in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, either, as Pulock produced well in six games.
Jaroslav Halak got his stuff together to close out the year in 2016-2017, but things got rocky for a while. He even found himself in the AHL for a while, but went 6-1-0 since he was called back to the Islanders. The 32-year-old is heading into a contract year with Long Island and will battle for the starting gig. That makes him dangerous.
Thomas Greiss is the other half of the tandem. He’ll push Halak for starting duties. The 31-year-old started 49 games last season and finished with 26 wins, so it’s safe to say he held it down in goal. He played 33 games from December to March and his numbers were okay, with a 2.75 goals against average in that time frame.