In order to succeed, the Islanders need more contributions from their “kids”
We’re reaching the dog days of the NHL season. December and January mark the intermediate period between the frenzy at the start of the season and the even larger frenzy of the trade deadline. The Islanders have been doing decent this year and have nothing spectacular nor disastrous to report.
The Islanders have been getting contributions from all four lines this year just as they had gotten last year (albeit Nelson-Tavares-Okposo is on a cool streak right now). The team didn’t make any major moves in the offseason unlike their counterparts in Washington and Pittsburgh. Garth Snow and the team have been banking on the internal development of their players, and they need three of these players in particular — Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee — to kick it into the next gear.
Ryan Strome has been fantastic since being re-called from his three week stint in the minors. He, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolay Kulemin have been the Isles best line over the recent stretch. Even after getting off to a cool start, Strome is still on pace for just over half a point per game, but a hot streak can easily bump that up. Whether or not Strome sees time on John Tavares’ wing in the future remains unseen, but as of right now due to his line’s play it seems unlikely. The Isles need Strome to keep up and not get complacent again since they heavily rely on a four-line game. Having a lethal asset in the middle-six would be a huge help to the depth of the forward group.
Brock Nelson is a streaky player. He had a goal in four straight games in November and had six points in that stretch. Now, he’s been ice cold with one goal in his last nine playing alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Nelson’s nine goals on the season are good for third on the team, but Jack Capuano and the coaching staff still need more out of him since the other four lines are doing well. Getting the first line back to its groove will only happen if all three players are working together, and Nelson is one of those guys. Playing with John Tavares could and should make it a quick turnaround for him and help turn him into a more consistent player.
Anders Lee has been an interesting case this year. He has looked good playing alongside the boards and behind the net and is using his size to his advantage. However, he only has four goals on the season. This is after he potted 25 last year. Lee is on pace for only 11 goals this year which is not nearly good enough. Lee, like Strome and Nelson, also saw time with John Tavares last year which could explain his high goal totals in his first full year. Regardless, more is expected from Lee, especially playing with a hot hand in Frans Nielsen. On the bright side, Lee already has 10 assists this season compared to his 16 last season which is good.
I foresee in the near future a switch up of Anders Lee and Brock Nelson in the lineup. This would give Tavares and Okposo someone out front to screen the goalie and feed the puck to, as well as not disrupt the Grabovski line or the Cizikas line by putting Nelson with Nielsen and Bailey. Or, at least that’s what I would do.
At the end of the day, the Islanders have faith in their youth, and will succeed or fail by them. Strome, Nelson, and Lee all need to pick up their game in the last half or so of the season and help propel the team to their first playoff win since 1993.