With the bevy of issues and questions surrounding the team currently, and the looming inevitability of an Atlantic-heavy schedule in the upcoming compressed season, many hopeful, jaded, tired Isles fans much like myself may feel compelled to let out a big groan and resign themselves to another high draft pick. I, however, believe that certain additions (and subtractions) will benefit the team immensely, and possibly give us a glimmer of legitimate optimism. (Note: all of the following disregard the possibility of a Ryan Strome joining the big club, or a Nino Niederreiter callup)
Without delving into too many stats, lets look at a few key forwards that the Isles cut loose and how their replacements project to provide greater production on the ice.
In over 50 less games the pair of youngsters matched Rolston and Pandolfo's total point production. With a full season to prove themselves on the big stage, and with consistent ice time and linemates Ullstrom and Cizikas project to give a needed boost of energy to the bottom 6.
The team also cut loose several traffic cones...er I mean defenseman in Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton, and Milan Jurcina. In 29, 65, and 62 games respectively, this trio contributed a whopping 17 points and a combined -27 plus/minus.
Their replacements (pending the Visnovsky debacle) project to be a bevy of promising youngsters from within the system. Here are a few of them, with their AHL stats
1. Matt Donovan - 17 points (5G 12A) in 34 GP (current season) and boasted a whopping 10 goals and 35 assists in his 2011-12 campaign with the Sound Tigers (72 games played).
2. Aaron Ness - 12 assists and no goals this year with the Sound Tigers in 34 games played, however like Donovan, he posted impressive numbers in 2011-12 with the team; 5 goals and 22 assists in 69 games. The only question is if he can physically endure the NHL (5 foot 10, 175 pounds)
3. Ty Wishart - The former high draft pick is now a stalwart with the Sound Tigers, however, aside from having impressive stature (6 foot 4, 255 pounds), he is also a leader on the ice and provided some production as well. 5 goals and 14 assists in 2011-12 with Bridgeport, in addition to a -2 plus/minus
While I am aware that these are AHL stats, the differential in production between these 3 young defensemen and last year's shoddy blueline are staggering, and the results are sure to be readily apparent come gametime.
Finally, we are brought to the backbone of any team, the goaltender.
Disregarding the proverbial giant gorilla in the room in Rick DiPietro, Evgeni Nabokov was the primary starting goaltender for the Islanders last season. In 42 games he posted a respectable .914 Save percentage and a 2.55 Goals-Allowed Average. Both numbers are consistent with his career averages, and perhaps his GAA and shots faced could be even lower with an improved Defense corps surrounding him. Nabby has shown the ability to put the team on his back and be a "horse" in the past (77, 61, 72 games played his last 3 years in San Jose) but with his age, his health is always a concern, and Nabby did spend some time on the shelf last season. Enter the two young goaltenders poised to get their feet wet in the NHL with regular backup duty:
Kevin Poulin - Currently sporting a 10-6-2 record with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers along with a .911 Save% and a 2.98 GAA, the young athletic netminder is looking to catch on with the big club. He has played with the Islanders in the past due to the injury bug claiming our established goalies and has a 6-6-1 record in 16 games played in the NHL.
Anders Nilsson - The towering Swedish goalie, nicknamed Thor played in 4 games (3 starts) last year with the Islanders, winning only 1. That one win being a shutout of the New Jersey Devils. In his limited audition he sported a 2.75 GAA and a .910 Save%. He also started 25 games for Bridgeport that year posting a .924 Save% and 2.42 GAA.
The big question mark, however is Rick DiPietro, who's storied injury history needs no explanation. Perhaps in a backup role, his health could be better preserved and he could come in to spell Nabokov when needed. In 8 games played last year he sported a 3-2-3 record with a ghastly 3.73 GAA and an .875 Save%. While it is apparent that "DP" cannot handle the rigors of starting every night, perhaps excelling in a more limited backup role could be beneficial to re-establishing his confidence and readjusting his body.
But hey guys, this is all p-p-projecting...