Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey 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. Make sure to stick k around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 New York Islanders.
2020-21 New York Islanders
The New York Islanders finished eighth in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-23-10 record. They finished with a total of 80 points to give them the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. New York continued to prosper into one of the better defensive teams in the league who finished fifth best with fewest goals against. Due to a shortened season relating to the global pandemic, we saw a halt in the NHL season. New York finished the season with two fewer games than the league-leading Boston Bruins, who had 70.
In the best-of-five qualifying round, New York would send the Florida Panthers home in four games. New York’s victory in the qualifiers would deliver the team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the first round, they shocked Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, taking the series 4-1. The New York Islanders rolled into the next round facing off against the Philadelphia Flyers.
They would defeat Philadelphia in seven games. Tampa Bay Lightning would end the streaky Islanders in six games during the Eastern Conference Finals. Josh Bailey would oversee all Islander players in the postseason with 20 points. Semyon Varlamov had a monster performance, recording a .921 percent and a 2.14 goals-against-average.
The New York Islanders’ offseason saw unexpected movement, including the Johnny Boychuk retirement. Thomas Greiss would not receive an offer from the Islanders. Devon Toews would be traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Ilya Sorokin, the former 2014 draft pick agreed on a one-year term worth $2 million. New York, furthermore did not re-sign goaltender prospect, Linus Soderstrom.
Onwards with goalie news, Cory Schneider was rumoured to be sealing a deal with the Islanders. Regardless, nothing has fallen through on that deal. Some suspicions remain as New York chose not to re-sign players Derick Brassard, Jordan Schmaltz, and Tom Kuhnhackl. Players that did re-sign worth gathering in recognition are Joshua Ho-Sang, Grant Hutton, Mitchell Vande Sompel, and Parker Wotherspoon.
One deal that was crucial to get done was re-signing defenceman Ryan Pulock. Both sides agreed to a two-year contract worth $10 million. Pulock was drafted in the first round back in 2013 by the Islanders. He wrapped up last season with 35 points, on pace to set a new career-high. Mathew Barzal, the Islanders’ star forward, remains an RFA as we all patiently wait for the announcement of a new deal. New York dipped into the free agency pool to sign centre Austin Czarnik to a two-year two-way term.
The New York Islanders put together three trades this off-season to free up their salary. We saw the shocking trade of Devon Toews, who was an RFA traded to the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche received a second-round pick in the 2021 and 2022 NHL Draft. The loss of Devon Toews will inevitably hurt the Islanders in defensive perspectives.
New York would not be done establishing moves with Colorado as they also exchanged Kyle Burroughs for A.J. Greer. The Islanders and Greer would agree to a one-year term worth $700,000. Dmytro Timashov would be acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for future considerations. Dmytro Timashov remains unsigned by the Islanders.
Johnny Boychuk announced his retirement due to sustaining an eye injury in the 2019-20 season. Boychuk came in contact with Montreal Canadiens player Artturi Lehkonen‘s skate and was cut across his right eyelid. The injury would require Boychuk to receive stitches and plastic surgery. The veteran who has 725 games played under his belt will be a big loss to NHL fans and the New York Islanders.
Line Up Projections
The Islanders’ top-six will remain recognizably similar to recent years as the supporting cast persists the same. Jordan Eberle had a dismal year but is still considerably good as he looks out of place at moments. However, when he is on his game, he and his linemates appear destructive. New York’s first line finished in the top five for goals on the team. They prevailed as the Islanders’ main source of offence. Their second line during the postseason was notably the best in hockey at the time, they gathered a total of 52 points. The chemistry among these three is a force to reckoned with. To break up the second line to start the year would be lunacy.
The bottom-six remains controversial at this time, as Derrick Brassard did not re-sign with the Islanders. Brassard has since signed with the Arizona Coyotes. Heavy hitting forward Matt Martin just re-signed on December 31st, along with forward Andy Greene. This gives up one open spot and a chance for one or more of the young talented players to snatch it up. A lot of build-up and hype surrounds Oliver Wahlstrom, the 2018 11th overall pick.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him crack the roster. Another player worth noting is Kieffer Bellows who had three points in eight games last season. May it be Bellows’ time to crack the NHL roster? One certainty that is perceived is, Pageau will hold the reigns of the third centre position. Austin Czarnik will slot into the fourth centre position alongside Cal Clutterbuck and perhaps Andrew Ladd. With Martin back, some line adjustments will be necessary.
Andy Greene – Scott Mayfield
The 2020-21 New York Islanders defence will encounter testing early this season. Without Devon Toews and Johnny Boychuk, it just won’t be the same starting the season. However, with the genius defensive coaching style of Barry Trotz, confidence lingers that a master plan will overcome the missing pieces. We will see Noah Dobson step into a top-four role alongside Nick Leddy this time? Dobson was alongside Boychuk last season as he started slow but progressed and showed prosperity as the season moved on.
The top two pairings unquestionably will be the likes of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. The two paired together last season were a top-notch shutdown pair and showed a great amount of growth among each other.
The bottom-two more than likely to start the season will be the likes of Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield. Thomas Hickey hasn’t seen NHL action since May of 2019 and was a bit of a letdown that year as well tying a career-low with just four points. Since Andy Greene has signed with the team recently, Hickey will have to prove his excellence on this Islanders’ team. Sebastian Aho, who has not seen NHL activity since March of 2018, could finally take his next step. The 23-year-old at some point needs to show the Islanders he is more than willing to take on a role to fill the bottom defence pairing.
Extra: Cory Schneider
The New York Islanders’ goaltending is clear as day to who starts and who is in the backup role to start the season. Semyon Varlamov has established his role on this team and provided the Islanders full confidence in him. Last season he set a .914 percent in the regular season and an outstanding .921 percent in the postseason. With the parting of Thomas Greiss and Ilya Sorokin paving his path to the NHL, it’s quite distinct where the Islanders stand with their goaltending.
Ilya Sorokin has spent the last seven years in the KHL and yet to play in the NHL. Sorokin has put up jaw-dropping numbers in the KHL and has completely dominated, making it very aware he is prepared to come and play in the NHL. In his last three seasons in Russia, he has posted a .930 percent save percentage or higher. Sorokin also had 28 shutouts in his last 117 games played. If this doesn’t scream NHL ready, I don’t know what does.
Corey Schneider reportedly was finalizing a deal with the New York Islanders back in October, which would be a huge asset to this team. The New York Islanders lack goaltending depth and can’t afford to keep confidence in Jakub Skarek. The Czech netminder has seemed to struggle since coming to North America, with a .888 save percentage being his best.
Players to Watch
One of the Islanders up and coming stars started to push for a breakout season last year as he recorded 39 points in 68 games. A player who has extensively improved with maturity and puck handling skills will get his chance to put on a display this season. Playing on the second line with Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey has helped elevate his game. If you didn’t note this in the regular season, I’m sure you took note of it in the postseason. Beauvillier scored 14 points in the 2020 playoffs being fourth-best in points on the team, matching with Jordan Eberle.
Noah Dobson, the right-handed defencemen, was selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. The 20-year-old youngster looks to make his mark on this roster in the upcoming year for the Islanders. Dobson, who had seven points in 34 games last season and an average ice time of 13 minutes was beginning to find familiarity and poise in his game. This season he will find his way in the top four to start, possibly being paired with Nick Leddy. Set your sights on the young two-way defencemen who carries an accurate heavy shot.
Prediction for 2020-21 New York Islanders
The New York Islanders, by all means, do not have an All-Star elite player on this team. Mathew Barzal possesses the talent and potential to be that elite player, eventually to take the driver’s seat. However, that isn’t any concern about the team’s performance at the moment. Coach Barry Trotz stepped into the organization in 2018 after he and the Washington Capitals hoisted the Stanley Cup. In 2019, Trotz’s first season with the Islanders, he won the Jack Adams Award for a second time.
With somewhat a similar offensive group and young talented core pushing to elevate their game, I can’t see the Islanders offence being an issue. Although we saw some key departures on the back end of this roster, Trotz will work his magic and keep things tight on the back end. New York’s goaltending will be on par with last season, or possibly better with the Islander’s future goalie looking to take the NHL by surprise.
The Islanders will be competing in a new division, the “East Division” which will be fairly strong. Keep an eye on the race in the East Division as this battle will be intriguing as to who will finish in the top-four. With the Islanders’ strong defensive game and goaltending to steal games, they should find a way to sneak in.