This year there were very few moves made by Garth Snow in the offseason. Jordan Eberle was acquired for Ryan Strome and Travis Hamonic was traded for a considerable haul of draft picks. Even with a team that will look a lot like it did last year, we will have some interesting things to watch at camp.
Ryan Pulock vs Scott Mayfield
Starting right defenseman.
This is a little tricky depending on where Dennis Seidenberg fits into the mix. I feel that they will all get considerable playing time due to all four RD candidates have some health "history’ over the past 2 seasons. But this is an important competition. Seidenberg will probably start the season with deHann in last year’s most consistent pairing. The winner may determine how games are played.
Mayfield has the advantage of experience. He has performed well when given opportunities. He is a rugged D, but is also a decent decision maker who gets pucks to the net.
Pulock has the potential to be a top pairing RD for the Isles. He has also performed within expectations when given the opportunity. Most of his failings have been due to his own health issues.
Opinion: The team will be better off if Pulock wins this battle and plays to his upside. He can help the PP, and should be able to add 5v5 offense + capable defense against opposing top lines.He’s going to need experience to become the #1. The sooner that happens the faster the Isles become a SC contender.
Matthew Barzal vs Anthony Beauvillier
3rd Line Center (NHL Roster Spot)
This is not a simple question for most Islander fans. I see it as a win win situation for the Islanders. ABV was a capable NHL center at 19. He offers above average skating ability and dogged defensive determination at a very demanding position. This may not be a popular position, but I see Beau as the heir to Frans’ spot. He’s well advanced of where 51 was at his age.
Barzal has the talent to be a top center in the league, but he’s proven nothing so far. With Nelson and Quine also available to play center early in the season the Isles would need an amazing camp from Barzal to keep him in the NHL at 20. If he makes the squad, that SHOULD mean the Islanders are much better off, but…
Opinion: I see this as a no-brainer. The Isles should allow Barzal to acclimate to the pro game (size, speed, schedule) at the AHL level. They will have a good young team in Bridgeport, and if the staff can get him up to speed ala Josh Ho-sang last year, he will be very helpful for the late season playoff push.
Jordon Eberle vs Josh Bailey
First Line RW
There should be no loser here. Eberle was brought in to do something that Ryan Strome was incapable of. Playing first line minutes to drive offense with John Tavares. Josh Bailey did an adequate job last year racking up a career high 56 points. 13 goals, however, was disappointing from that position, which also came with a good amount of time on PP1. I can see Bailey playing a BIGGER role as a middle six RW this year in a mix that should include JHS, Chimera and Kulemin.
Eberle has some success with Tavares in their international careers. A line of Ladd-Tavares-Eberle may offer the most dynamic threesome since Thomas Vanek, Kyle Okposo and Tavares were the best small sample size line since the dynasty years.
Opinion: Eberle will win the spot. The lines 5v5 play (w/Ladd) may be as good, or slightly better than Lee-Tavares-Bailey were last year when using net goals for/against as a measure… but the PP will greatly improve with Eberle replacing Bailey. That may be the most important improvement this year.
Thomas Greiss v Jaro Halak
If there is a winner there is no loser. If one of these guys emerges from camp as the #1, the #2 should be the best #2 since Greiss was #2 to Jaro 2 years ago. They can both carry the team, but NOT ALONE. Neither has shown the capacity to carry the team for a full year without adequate backup. As long as we don’t have a 3rd goalie in the mix, the goaltending will be fine.
Opinion: Jaro earned back the starting job with his maturity in Bridgeport, and heis performance upon his return to the NHL. Greiss will be here for the long term. Goaltending should not be a problem this year.
Other "things to look for"
Devon Toews had a very good pro rookie season last year with Bridgeport. He’s a speedy LD that should find a role later in the season with both Calvin deHaan and Thomas Hickey being UFA eligible in July.
Sebastion Aho was an overage draft choice in the 5th round. If the staff can add some D to his O he might have some NHL potential. It would be a true Houdini act if he was to make this roster, but a good camp showing would put him on the radar as a potential injury call up later in the year.
Michael DalColle is a prospect whose talent needs to grow into the role he will eventually have with the team. He had a good pro rookie campaign, but not as dynamic as Josh Ho-sang’s. His skill set is more in line with Brock Nelson, and will probably elevate as his physical maturity gets to the high end. Don’t count him out as an in-season call up. He will probably be on the team next year as Chimera and Kulemin are UFA eligible.
D Strategy. This team did not have a problem scoring goals 5v5 last year. I don’t think it will be a problem again this year… and their PP should improve as well. The issue will be stopping goals. Goaltending should improve, and their PK improved after a horrible start. We should have confidence in both being above average this year. The main problem 5v5 with the team was their D. This is an issue, not necessarily with the D position, but their ability to clear the puck from their D zone… as a 5 player unit. The improvement, IMHO, will have to come from C. Last year the first line had Bailey carrying that load. This year JT will need to be more adept in that role. Look for him carrying the puck in the D zone with Ladd and Eberle offering support.
Nelson was not good at all in the C role in this regard. He will need to improve, but this is why I hope to see JHS with him. Ho-sang offers the same defense by paranoia options that Grabner did.
Beau will improve with experience. I see this as something that will happen, and will be invisible to most fans. We’ll wake up in a few years to a 25-25-50pt 3rd line C and wonder where he came from.
Cizikas is getting paid for this part of his game specifically. Last year should have been his "career" year with support from guys like Kulemin and Chimera, but health (Kulemin, Clutterbuck) was more of an issue. Look for an improvement if this line is fully healthy. But look for improved center based break out strategies in camp. It will make the team better in the long run.
Right now this is the way I see the opening night lineup:
16-91-7 [Potential to be best threesome in Tavares Era]
27-29-66 [Playmaking shifts to RW here, and allows 29 to use his shot more]
25-72-12 [Solid third line checkers with some offensive upside]
86-53-15 [if fully healthy will be difference in a lot of close games]
2-55 [Best two defenders on the team right now]
44-4 [Most consistent pairing last year]
14-6 [above avg 3rd pairing, 6 will help PP]
31/1 [If healthy 47/35 reg ssn split of games]
(10, 42, 50) [Quine is a versatile F who s/b fine with role]