These perennial underdogs are starting to get recognition. The Islanders have made it to the third round in two consecutive seasons, but in both years they fell to the Lightning en route to a Tampa Bay championship. This past series was close, as they ended up losing by one in game seven. New York added some grizzly veterans while clearing cap space in an attempt for third time’s the charm.
Offseason additions: F Zach Parise, D Zdeno Chara, F Richard Panik, D Erik Gustafsson (PTO), D Paul LaDue, F Andy Andreoff.
Offseason subtractions: F Jordan Eberle, D Nick Leddy, F Travis Zajac, D Braydon Coburn.
Once again, Mat Barzal showed that he is the team’s best player. Still the reigning fastest skater in the league, Barzal’s 45 points led the team by 10. He scored 17 goals, for a pace of 25 that would have been the highest of his career. He also had 14 points in the playoffs despite missing one of his top wingers. One thing that Barzal has to work on is his discipline. His 48 penalty minutes led the team. It was not brute physicality, rather carelessness. The return of Anders Lee is what the Isles hope get them over the hump. Lee tore his ACL after 27 games, ending his season and diminishing the team’s hopes. The captain was playing his best hockey prior to the injury, with 12 goals and seven assists already in his pocket. For the second season in a row, the team’s big trade deadline acquisition stuck around for more. Kyle Palmieri was near invisible in the 17 regular season games he played in as an Islander, scoring twice. But he woke up when his beard, and the playoffs, returned. Palmieri played in all 19 games and scored seven times. The Islanders have utilized Brock Nelson as the whole package. His 18 goals led the team, and he averaged 17 minutes and 50 seconds on ice, second to only Barzal among forwards. Nelson plays big minutes on 5v5, as well as on both special teams units. The wildly inconsistent Anthony Beauvillier scored 15 goals last year, which was both his lowest since he was 19 and his best pace in a regular season. Beauvillier turned it on in the Spring, scoring five times in the playoffs, with his game six overtime winner against Tampa Bay being the most important. Josh Bailey once again had a quietly good season, as his 35 points was second on the team. The reason for this silence was probably because 27 of his points were assists. Among the team’s regulars, his four penalty minutes were the fewest. The other deadline player to dominate in the playoffs as well as sign an extension was Jean-Gabriel Pageau. In his first full season on Long Island, Pageau scored 14 times with 14 assists with a healthy diet of defensive minutes. He only scored three goals, but did have ten assists in the postseason. Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom was Wally Pipp’d by Travis Zajac in the potseason, but that should not take anything away from his impressive rookie campaign. He scored 12 times in 44 games, including four times on the power play, providing a much-needed spark to the struggling New York unit. Wahlstrom has a great shot and even bit into the team’s grit, with 57 hits. 18 years after the team passed on him in the 2003 draft, Zach Parise is New York Islander. Parise scored 25 goals in 2019-20 for the Wild but he fell off quickly last year, leading to his buyout. Parise scored seven goals in 45 games, riding a 7.8 percent shooting rate. A small contract and less ice time will be beneficial for him in his new situation. With Casey Cizikas signed for the next six years, the trademark fourth line is back. Cizikas is easily the best of the bunch, both defensively and especially offensively. He scored seven goals in 56 games, with 112 hits, extending his triple-digit hits streak to eight. Speaking of hits, both Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are pretty good at them. From 2013-14 to 2016-17, Martin’s lowest hit total was 300. He has not hit that mark yet, but he did have 181 in 54 games last year. He scored six goals, tied for his highest since 2015-16. His 43 penalty minutes in the playoffs led the league. Clutterbuck surprisingly only had ten PIMs in the regular season. He had four goals and just missed his eleventh 200+ hit season, with 191. The extra forward spots will be won in a massive camp battle. Richard Panik was acquired for Nick Leddy this offseason. Panik is a decent checking forward who can score, which fits the Isles mold pretty well. If he gets in a game, New York will be his seventh team in his ten seasons. Veteran Leo Komarov went from extra forward to top line winger after Lee’s injury. He obviously is not that type of a player, as he only scored once last year. He still had 83 hits in 33 games and is a key locker room presence. A first-rounder in 2016, the clock is running out on Kieffer Bellows. He played in 14 games last year, scoring three times. Bellows is not waiver eligible, so there are serious questions to ask about him. Another competitor is Anatoli Golyshev, the 26-year-old Russian import. He was a consistent scorer in the KHL, netting 12 in 53 games last year.
Over the past two seasons, Adam Pelech has shown his excellence. Arguably the game’s best defensive defenseman, Pelech still received a Norris vote despite having just 14 points. That’s impressive for a generally point-driven award. He had 73 blocks with 66 hits. He had 62 hits in 19 playoff games. His partner, Ryan Pulock, has significantly more offensive talent, but only had 17 points in the regular season. He scored just twice in the regular season but doubled that in the playoffs. He blocked 106 shots with 97 hits, finishing ninth in Lady Byng voting as well. Defensive defender Scott Mayfield contracted the ire of Lightning fans after a cross-check to Nikita Kucherov, which led to boos every time he touched the puck. Mayfield blocked 108 shots and one of his two postseason goals was a game six snipe that saved the season versus the Lightning. 21-year-old Noah Dobson is yet to have the chains fully removed from him. He was sheltered like crazy in 2019-20, and still didn’t play against the best of the best last year. Dobson has a future as the team’s power play quarterback, as five of his 11 assists were on the man advantage. Any defensive issues with his game could be patched up by his new partner, Zdeno Chara. Chara is starting his second stint with the Islanders, with only two decades separating the two. The 44-year-old is still a commanding force on the ice. He had 88 hits while only missing one game for the Capitals. Just like he did in Boston, Chara will pair with a young, right-handed shot defender. It feels crazy to say that Andy Greene has a teammate who is five-and-a-half years older than him. Greene played in 55 games for the Isles last year, his first full season with the team. He blocked 99 shots, sadly ending his streak of triple-digit blocks seasons at seven. Swift-moving defenseman Sebastian Aho is the favorite for the seventh defenseman role. He had two points in the three NHL games he got into last year, but struggles defensively. In 49 AHL games, Aho had 30 points. 2017 second-rounder Robin Salo is coming to North America after a good season for Orebro HK in Sweden. Salo had 30 points in 51 games, six of which were goals.
Both of the Islanders goaltenders return. The net has been a strength of theirs over the past two seasons, especially being able to utilize the two together. Semyon Varlamov finished fifth in Vezina voting, as playing in only 36 games seemingly held him back. Varlamov’s 22.0 GSAA led the league, and he had a very impressive 2.04 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He then had a .922 percentage in the playoffs, starting in most of the second and third rounds. Ilya Sorokin’s rookie season started off weak, but he got increasingly better as the season continued. In 22 regular season games, he had a .918 save percentage with a 2.17 GAA. He was absolutely clutch in the first round versus Pittsburgh. In his seven playoff games, Sorokin had a .922 save percentage. Veteran Cory Schneider is back as the third goalie again. He was with the team for the entire season but never got into a game in 2020-21.
Anders Lee – Mat Barzal – Kyle Palmieri
Anthony Beauvillier – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
Zach Parise – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Extras: Richard Panik, Leo Komarov, Anatoli Golyshev
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
Zdeno Chara – Noah Dobson
Andy Greene – Scott Mayfield
Extras: Sebastian Aho, Robin Salo
They may not be flashy on paper, but this Islanders team is good, and very deep at every position. The Metropolitan Division is tough, but they are one of those teams that make it tough. They could easily win the division. While I do not see that happening, look for them to make another long playoff run.