The bulk of the New York Islanders’ preseason schedule is behind them and cuts are expected today. While those cuts will include drama with several prospects vying for spots, certain questions will last the whole season. Here they are as part of SB Nation’s NHL preview:
1. Will older additions like Andrew Ladd, P.A. Parenteau and Jason Chimera add the right ingredients or backfire?
The Isles allowed two departures by choice (Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin) and one by accident (Frans Nielsen). In their place are older players, but the Isles like what Ladd brings in terms of leadership and winning-team experience to go with his 20 goals per season. Perhaps after years of relying on a core of young players that grew up together, it was time to add more outside voices in Ladd and Chimera, as with Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk two seasons ago.
They expect Chimera to bring more speed and offensive threat than Martin did — though an analytic look puts that in question — so much that Chimera has been on a third line, while Nikolai Kulemin is auditioning in Martin’s old spot on the “best fourth line in hockey.”
Meanwhile, they are counting on Parenteau to recreate his old chemistry with Tavares on a top line with Ladd. It’s all a risk for a team that finally won a playoff series last season but relied more on its goaltending and franchise star to do it. Only time will tell if this chemistry change can deliver short-term payoff.
2. Will young forwards Nelson and Strome step up, while prospects Pulock and Barzal (or Beauvillier?) add life?
One part of the above chemistry equation is expecting a much better season from Ryan Strome and a more consistent season for Brock Nelson. These are similar expectations to a year ago, though now they’re a year older, wiser(?), and should get more opportunities to shine with the departure of minutes-munching Okposo and Nielsen.
And more young blood should be on the way. Ryan Pulock was expected to make the opening roster as a regular defenseman — no more Brian Strait wars among the Isles fanbase — while a collection of forwards impressed in camp. Joshua Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle will almost certainly head to Bridgeport, but they showed they are enticing callups at the first sign of injuries with the big club.
Even more intriguing, Anthony Beauvillier was the surprise standout, Mathew Barzal displayed the flashy talent everyone knows he has. Those two are still of junior age, so it’s either stick in the NHL or head back to the QMJHL and WHL, respectively.
Regardless, the Isles need contributions from one or two among this group to have an aggregate upgrade over last year’s roster.
3. What becomes of the Islanders’ three-headed goaltending monster?
The strangest story running since spring and all through the summer is how the Islanders are handling their goalies. Granted, Jaroslav Halak has an injury history — one that kept him out of the stretch run and playoffs last year. But when healthy — there’s that asterisk again -- he’s the best, most established of the three goalies they have in camp on one-way NHL contracts.
Thomas Greiss was fantastic last year and showed he can not only be a great backup but also handle number-one duties, as he was the primary non-Tavares reason the Islanders got past the Florida Panthers in six games.
But the Islanders’ affinity for unproven Jean-Francois Berube had them hanging on to him and reportedly shopping for opportunities to trade one of the others. Did Halak’s outstanding World Cup change their minds? Do they try to hold on to three NHL roster goalies again? (Which would cause one of the previously named skaters to be sent down?)
More importantly, how does their decision affect their chances in 2016-17? If they trade one of the others and rely on Berube as a backup, they’re going into dangerous waters. Of course, the Catch-22 is Halak’s injury history is a big reason why they have Berube in the first place...they could lose Berube, rely on Halak-Greiss again, only to have an injury put them back in the same place as preseason 2015-16.
Oh for a crystal ball.