Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue with the New York Islanders.
Last year, the New York Islanders played out their final season at Nassau Veterans Coliseum and it was a season to remember. The club had its first 100-point season since 1984. The Islanders finished third in the Metropolitan Division after coming in dead last in 2013-14. New York would exit the playoffs in the first round, losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games.
Heading into 2014-15, Jaroslav Halak took over for Evgeni Nabokov as the team’s starting goalie. Behind Halak, was Chad Johnson who would be later traded for Michal Neuvirth. Team captain John Tavares lead the team in goals (38) and points (86). Behind Tavares were Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome. Okposo tallied 51 points in only 60 games. In 81 games, Strome managed 50 points. Rookie center Anders Lee scored 25 goals, second to Tavares, and added 16 assists.
New York Islanders GM Garth Snow seems content with last year’s roster, as the Isles have had a quiet offseason so far. The team’s biggest move was one that sent Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers for a pair of draft picks in the first and second rounds in the 2015 draft. Snow used the acquired first-rounder to draft Mathew Barzal out of the WHL at 16th overall.
The Islanders added a couple of noteworthy bodies, including free agent back-up goalie Thomas Greiss, and re-signed defenseman Thomas Hickey. They also made a few more low-risk moves this summer, including the signing of Louis Leblanc. He is former top prospect of the Montreal Canadiens, but his scoring touch never translated from the juniors to the pros. This will most likely be Leblanc’s last chance to prove he has what it takes and he’ll get to do so with the Islanders, where he will play with some of the best young talent in the league.
Snow also re-signed Lee, who was a restricted free agent this summer. At $3.75 million annually for the next four years, this is a very team-friendly contract.
2015-16 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Josh Bailey – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Brock Nelson – Frans Nielsen – Ryan Strome
Anders Lee – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nikolai Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Michael Grabner
Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
Calvin De Haan – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Brian Strait
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Johnny Boychuk gave a huge boost to the Islanders last season and they practically stole him from the Boston Bruins. His help defensively went a long way and the Isles may not have made the playoffs without him. This season should be no different; Boychuk will be relied on to carry the load defensively. He will also look to help out the team’s stagnant powerplay. Boychuk led all Islanders defensemen in points and assists last season and has a hell of a slapper from the blue line.
ON THE RISE
Strome had himself a breakout season that was long awaited by his club. In 81 games, the 22-year-old scored 17 goals and 33 assists. The Isles drafted Strome fifth overall in 2011. At the junior level, Strome registered 295 points in 225 games. With the Bridgeport Tigers at the AHL level, he has 56 points in 47 games. Strome has averaged more than a point a game at every level except the NHL.
At six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Strome has lots of speed and great hands. He was originally drafted as a center, but can play on the wing as well. Strome needs to get better defensively, but if he can, he could prove to be the no. 2 center behind Tavares.
ON THE DECLINE
Grabovski had all the makings to succeed in New York. Instead, the 31-year-old is back to where he was, statistically, when the Toronto Maple Leafs bought him out in 2013. Last season, Grabovski only put up nine goals and 10 assists in 51 games. Grabovski has not performed in his first year with the Isles and shows no signs of improving. With Frans Nielsen holding things down at the no. 2 center position and Casey Cizikas and Strome moving up in the depth chart, Grabovski’s future in Brooklyn is more than questionable.
The 2015-16 New York Islanders will take to their new home at the Barclays Center, sharing the arena with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Islanders shouldn’t look much different than last year. Their offense will be just as impressive and exciting to watch as last year, especially as their younger players continue to get better. Their defense on the other hand, finished 23rd overall last season allowing 2.73 goals per game. So without any moves made to bolster their blue-line, the coaching staff will have to do some hard game planning to improve defensively.
On top of that, the Metropolitan Division has gotten exponentially better. And again, the Islanders really haven’t improved at all. Their power play finished around the middle of the league last year and will likely look the same this year. How they plan to compete against division rivals is still a big question mark.
With all this said, there is still something for fans to be optimistic about this season and it could be their secret weapon down the stretch. The Isles have more than enough cap space and a deep enough prospect pool to improve their team through trades.