The New York Islanders completed a busy stretch of the preseason with their third game in three nights Wednesday, a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in Newark, on a late goal by a young junior-eligible who’s giving them tough decisions to make. With several days before the final preseason game, the next cuts are expected any day (or hour) now.
And there are cuts to make. The Isles have something of a logjam at forward. As it stands right now, there are 11 forwards who are almost certainly locked in for the opening night lineup. It’s 12 when you include Jason Chimera, signed from the Washington Capitals to fill a third- or fourth-line winger spot and a lock to be on the NHL roster. Last spring’s playoff performances by Alan Quine, who scored the first goal Wednesday, also adds intrigue.
This doesn’t leave much room for the kids.
NYI choosing between Barzal, Beauvillier and Ho-Sang this preseason like choosing your fav flavor of ice cream. In end, still get ice cream.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) October 6, 2016
Going into the preseason, it looked like of the Isles’ top-rated prospects, only Mathew Barzal would really have a shot at making the team. However, based on their play in camp, it’s possible that the prospects are further along than many originally thought.
While the Islanders tend to be conservative with their prospects, with Shane Prince still nursing a lower body injury, per Arthur Staple, there’s a chance that we might see one or more of the young guns opening night.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the prospects and what their chances of making the Islanders this year are and what they can bring to the team.
Mathew Barzal was the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, a pick acquired from Edmonton through the Griffin Reinhart trade. It’s crazy to think that Boston passed up on Barzal three times and Edmonton chose Reinhart over the opportunity to draft him, considering Barzal is easily the Islanders’ top prospect.
However, the fact that the Islanders seems to value him as a top six forward only probably works against his odds of making the team. While he has potential to be a game changer, based on his preseason performances he probably isn’t at the NHL level defensively yet.
Barzal’s vision and skating are enviable, and while the Islanders have a lot of centers, unless Ryan Strome has a bounce-back season, John Tavares is the only one playing at an elite level. Barzal could be the second line center of the future, and could probably make an impact in the bottom six now. The fact that throughout the preseason Barzal has been given what an intelligent observer would believe to be Tavares’ opening night linemates shows that the organization believes in his abilities.
The Verdict: The Isles don’t like to “rush” prospects. Barzal might be ready for the NHL at 19 years old in a sheltered role, but Garth Snow is likely to play it safe with the former first-round draft pick. They may give him a nine-game trial because of his high upside, but it’s likely that Barzal ends up in Seattle this season. There’s probably not much more playing against WHL competition can do for his game, but he’s stuck in that in-between age and skill level where they may see that as the only option.
Anthony Beauvillier, like Barzal, was also drafted in the first round of 2015, as the 28th overall pick. A small, pesky winger, Beauvillier was praised for his skill and speed and was noted for his versatility. In preseason games, Beauvillier has been lining up at center, though he could easily end up on the wing as well. He tends to get in the dirty areas, something that Jack Capuano often praises, and his high level of play has put him in the mix for a job this season.
The fact that Beauvillier has a lower ceiling than Mathew Barzal may actually work in his favor. Beauvillier can be a skillful bottom six player, and with Shane Prince likely out for at least the first week of the season, Beauvillier could get a nine-game trial and some meaningful playing time on the wing.
The Verdict: Call me crazy, but Beauvillier might have one of the best chances to make the team. Scoring the late go-ahead goal Wednesday night didn’t hurt his case. (And this, in what he told Arthur Staple was his “worst game” of the preseason.)
In a similar way to how the St. Louis Blues used Robby Fabbri last year as a bottom sixer, Beauvillier could fit that profile as well. If he puts up even 30 points in that role, that’ll be good enough for what the Islanders need from him at 19 years old. Without the expectations that come with being one of the high-end prospects for the Isles, Beauvillier may be able to carve out a spot as a gritty, pesky, winger on the team this season.
Josh Ho-Sang is an interesting case. He’s shown tremendous skill and ability as a playmaking winger when given the opportunity, and always seems to stickhandle his way out of trouble.
However, doing that in the OHL and in NHL preseason and doing that during the NHL regular season are two very different things. Ho-Sang’s skill and skating allow him to draw penalties, which was notable against some of the Capitals’ more sluggish defenders during the preseason.
Ho-Sang is eligible to go to Bridgeport this season, and that gives more roster flexibility to the Islanders. While Barzal and Beauvillier would have to return to junior, Ho-Sang can ease his transition into professional hockey with more time in the AHL. He has his flashy moments that showcase his potential, but there are still major flaws in his game that a little bit of time at a higher level of play may be able to iron out.
The Verdict: Josh Ho-Sang and his amazing stickhandling will likely start the season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It’ll give him a chance to get adjusted to a real professional environment and he can work with Brent Thompson to fix some of his defensive flaws.
It’s also likely the right way to manage the forward logjam and get Ho-Sang top line minutes, even if that is in the AHL. If he plays well, he can certainly get called up to the team, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he earned a spot sometime during the season.
Michael Dal Colle
What exactly happened to Michael Dal Colle? He went from Top 5 draft pick, 40 goal-scorer of the future to… what, exactly? Opinions are divided over how much his first half slump meant last season in juniors, but it’s fair to temper our expectations at this point. Dal Colle seems to perform best with a talented center, and while the Islanders have one of the best centers in the league in John Tavares, it’s unlikely that the 20-year-old will be put on the first line as a rookie.
Dal Colle still has high scoring upside, as shown by the way he tore up the OHL once traded to the Kingston Frontenacs from Oshawa, but his skating needs to improve, and Bridgeport will be the place to do that. If Dal Colle can get a rhythm going in the AHL, where he’s likely to be on a line with Josh Ho-Sang, who can get him the puck in prime scoring spots, then he might make an appearance sooner rather than later.
The Verdict: Dal Colle is still one of the best forward prospects the Islanders have. Despite his inconsistency last year in the OHL, he put up 73 points in his 39 games with Kingston in the second half of his season, and still has elite goal scoring potential. Whether that’s 40 goals or somewhere between 20-30 is to be determined, but some time with Bridgeport will shed more light on exactly what kind of player Michael Dal Colle can be.
The 2014 and 2015 draft classes probably won’t produce many new faces this season for the Islanders, who would probably have to do some crafty work with the injured reserve and waivers to keep any of these young players up with the team. It might not be worth it when they can get quality playing time in major junior or the AHL.
While Beauvillier may have the best shot at filling a bottom six role this season, it’s just as possible that Alan Quine or one of the players on a PTO plays for a few games until Shane Prince returns. There’s a lot of talent at forward coming up for the Islanders, and it’ll be a season to watch in Bridgeport as well as in Brooklyn.