Like every team in the NHL, the New York Islanders enter the 2022-23 NHL season with a question mark. The Islanders are generally a question mark in general as the roster remains the same, but the results have been inconsistent.
Last season was filled with many unordinary circumstances that may have led to the underperformance of the team. On the other hand, this is a group of players that have played a lot of hockey over the last few seasons. The natural decline with age and fatigue could also have significantly affected the decline. The Islanders training camp will be the first chance to erase the taste of last season.
Questions Looming As Islanders Training Camp Approaches
Every team and every season starts from the top. The Islanders are no different in this aspect. Lou Lamoriello has made the ultimate decision to keep the roster the same. The Islanders training camp will begin with little change to the roster. Adding defenseman Alexander Romanov was the lone acquisition of the off-season. This will surely solidify the top four of the defensive group.
Besides the trade at the draft, Lamoriello made a change at head coach. In a surprising move, Barry Trotz was let go and eventually replaced with assistant coach, Lane Lambert. Lambert will enter his first season as an NHL head coach. Normally, this would be a risky move with a group of veteran players. The team is in a “win now” phase and a first-year head coach will not have time to adjust. Lambert has been the right-hand man to Barry Trotz for quite some time now. He has been highly regarded as a hot head coaching candidate but has always chosen to stay with Trotz. Now that this is his show, will Lambert succeed?
Lambert is entering his fifth season with the organization. A huge advantage for Lambert is knowing not only the current veterans but also the fringe players and prospects. This is a group of players that is familiar with Lambert’s core concepts and personality. Lambert can make subtle changes instead of explaining an entirely new philosophy. Of course, new ideas will be implemented, or Trotz would have been brought back as head coach.
The situation has been created for Lambert to have success. The level of success achieved is yet to be seen. This team was just one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals before last season.
Bellows and Wahlstrom
In connection with Lambert, Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom’s season could decide the fate of the team – and Lambert. Wahlstrom has been a highly touted prospect from the day he was drafted 11th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. With 126 games in the NHL, Wahlstrom has shown flashes of becoming a dangerous sniper. His struggles away from the puck kept him out of Trotz’s lineup on many occasions, though the 25 goals scored were difficult to keep out of a scoring-challenged squad. Wahlstrom played in a career-high 73 games last season.
Having time on the power play and with Mathew Barzal’s line, Wahlstrom saw many opportunities to break out. Unfortunately, the goals never came consistently. Of course, this is a characteristic of many goal scorers. Whether he can be a top-six forward will determine the path of this team.
Bellows was the 19th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. He experienced success on many levels. The physical style combined with a sharp shot has bought some time for him to develop at the NHL level. Having signed just a one-year contract this summer, it is time for him to produce or it could potentially be his last season in the organization. Like Wahlstrom and many young players, Bellows struggled with his play away from the puck. But this past season showed the level that Bellows can reach with consistent playing time. Bellows put together 19 points in 45 games and improved his defensive game. His most confident play this season was under Lambert when Trotz was on leave for family reasons. Can Bellows grow with Lambert?
Bellows will need to beat out other forwards just for a chance to play. If Wahlstrom and Bellows put together better years, this could be the missing part of the existing group of veterans.
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