It’s still a little while until the New York Islanders are officially in Brooklyn for good, 2015-16 to be exact, but I’ve wanted to slowly ramp up their coverage and with the preseason game at the Barclays Center coming up this Saturday this seems like a good time to start.
Last Season’s Record: 24-17-7 (8th in the Eastern Conference)
Invited to training camp: Radek Martinek, Justin Johnson, Riley Wetmore, Mike Dalhuisen, Dallas Jackson, Mike Keenan, Parker Milner, Kenny Reiter, and Greg MIller.
Overview: The Islanders made the playoffs last season for the first time in seemingly forever with a MVP-type performance from Tavares and some surprising play from journeyman players. It wasn’t a complete fluke, but don’t expect them to march back to the playoffs easily this season especially with the new realignment. They should be competitive though as Tavares has become an absolute star in the NHL, and was recently named captain after the departure of Streit.
Much of the team is still in tact this season with the only major loss being Streit. There haven’t been any major additions outside of Clutterbuck though so for this team to actually improve it’s going to need some of its younger players to step up.
Goaltending issues: Evgeni Nabokov was solid in net for the most part last season, but he kind of fell apart at the end of the year and was awful in the playoffs. With neither Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin stepping up as obvious replacements and the team not wanting to spend the money or resources this offseason to upgrade, they were forced to bring Nabokov back.
At 38-years-old it’s hard to say how much Nabokov has left and with Poulin and Nilsson being such big question marks themselves this is a position that has the potential to blow up in the Islanders faces.
Replacing Mark Streit on the blueline: This is going to be another issue for the Islanders as Streit was a strong defenseman and the quarterback on the powerplay. Lubomir Visnovsky, who played well for the Isles after he showed up last season, is back and should provide a veteran presence. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald made up a decent pair and will likely just get better. Thomas Hickey was solid as well.
The big question here is what veteran and which rookie they go with in the final pairing? This question actually excites me a bit though because they will have young D-men Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan competing for a spot and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen two legit prospects battling for a spot like this on the Islanders. With so many veterans in camp though it’s no guarantee that either makes the team.
Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson: These two players are interesting to me because both could potentially have big impacts on the team and, with only a few minor additions to this team, they may have to for the Islanders to get a playoff spot. From what I’ve seen of Strome, he’s ready for the NHL and should be playing right away. Nelson’s been slightly more inconsistent though and may not break camp with the team.
Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey need to step up: Among the more veteran players on the team, these two really need to play big if the Isles make the playoffs. Unfortunately, they’ve both been maddeningly inconsistent.
Okposo scored only two goals in the first 21 games last year before settling in and playing much better down the stretch and in the playoffs. Bailey, who was hurt and not ready to start the season last year, has been doing the same thing in each of the past two years — been terrible all year long and then turning it on late just enough to give fans hope for the next season. Is this the year he finally puts it all together or is it going to be more of the same.