There’s still work to be done. Lou Lamoriello knows that.
The Islanders were mainly silent on Tuesday, the second day after the free agent market opened, save for signing ex-Flyers minor-league forward Cole Bardreau.
But the Islanders’ offseason to-do list still includes identifying a fourth center after Valtteri Filppula returned to the Red Wings to finish his career following his one season on Long Island. And after elite playmaker Artemi Panarin spurned a larger offer from the Islanders to leave the Blue Jackets and join the rival Rangers on a seven-year, $81.5-million deal, Lamoriello is still likely looking for a scoring forward.
“We’re solidified at defense,” said Lamoriello, the Islanders’ president and general manager. “We have everyone back, plus a couple of outstanding young players who will be pushing for positions."
"We certainly will look to try and improve our center ice, if it’s possible,” added Lamoriello, noting Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas comprise the team’s top three centers. “Now what we have to do is see who takes that role. It could be somebody internally. We have a couple of young players in the minors and also a couple of college prospects we think highly of. We’ll take our time with that.”
Several second-tier unrestricted free agent forwards remained on Tuesday after the Predators signed the top center available, ex-Blue Jacket Matt Duchene, to a seven-year, $56-million deal on Monday.
That includes soon-to-be-ex-Bruin left wing Marcus Johansson, who played for Islanders coach Barry Trotz with the Capitals and initially came to the NHL as a center. Ryan Dzingel, who the Blue Jackets acquired from the Senators in their in-season trade frenzy, is also looking for a new home. So, too, is well-traveled Brian Boyle, who has played for both the Rangers and Devils and could center the fourth line if Cizikas is elevated to the third line while also providing a net-front presence on the second power-play unit. Ex-Ranger center Derick Brassard is also available.
But Lamoriello is also counting on some of the Islanders’ forward prospects to push for a roster spot in September’s training camp.
That list includes Oliver Wahlstrom, selected 11th overall in 2018, Kieffer Bellows, picked 19th overall in 2016, Otto Koivula, a fourth-round pick in 2016 who played center for Bridgeport last season in his first season in the Islanders’ organization, and Mason Jobst, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State.
Lamoriello could also use some of his depth defense to acquire a forward.
Devon Toews had a strong rookie season and duplicates much of the stickhandling, skating and playmaking skills that Nick Leddy possesses. Plus, a spot may soon need to be found for Noah Dobson, selected 12th overall in 2018.
Lamoriello also believes the forwards currently on the roster will provide more scoring in their second season in Trotz’s defense-first system.
The Islanders improved 23 points in the standings to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and sweep the Penguins in the first round before being swept by the Hurricanes. And they went from allowing the most goals in the NHL since 2007 to giving up the fewest goals in the league last season.
“I look at the growth of our players from the beginning of the year,” Lamoriello said. “As far as our forwards go, you saw the change throughout the season in how our players adjusted to the system and how important it is to play on both sides of the puck and then the success that comes with that. I think it’s our skilled players who should be showing the most improvement.”