The Islanders departed the Edmonton bubble for Long Island on Friday, their memorable season ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals the night before.
Having their deepest playoff run since 1993 is no guarantee of success the following season.
But if there was an understated positive for the organization’s future in Thursday’s defeat, it was the postseason debut of defenseman Noah Dobson.
"You look at our back end from a standpoint of we’ve got some youth back there, we’ve got some veterans back there," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "Our back end is really, really good and Dobber is going to be a big part of the future. And the now, I guess, because we’ll be into the next season very shortly here. He’ll be a big part of it going forward."
Dobson, 20, the 12th overall pick in 2018, was pressed into service after mostly practicing with the extras during the postseason run with top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech suffering a broken wrist early in the Islanders’ 2-1 double overtime victory in Game 5.
Trotz dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards and Dobson logged 12:55 of ice time, the least among the blueliners. But Trotz never shortened his rotation and Dobson had four shifts apiece in the critical third period and the 13:18 of overtime before Anthony Cirelli’s winner.
He showed poise with the puck, using his strong skating and passing skills to exit the puck from the defensive zone. And Dobson played a physical game, with three credited hits.
All very commendable given Dobson last played in the exhibition game against the Rangers on July 29 and last played in a game that counted on March 10 at Vancouver, two days before the NHL halted the regular season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think Noah stepped in in a very difficult situation there and really produced really well," defenseman Devon Toews said. "It’s what we expect from him and he’s a great player."
"I think all the guys chipped in a little bit and talked to him," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "I’m sure he was nervous, but he had nothing to lose. Go in there and play his game. He’s a really, really good player."
The 6-4, 184-pound Dobson had one goal and six assists in 34 regular-season games. Optimally, he would have spent the season with the Islanders’ top minor-league affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but as a 19-year-old (at the start of the NHL season) with Canadian junior hockey eligibility left, Dobson was not eligible for the AHL. Instead, the Islanders believed the best option for his development was to keep him on their NHL roster rather than return him to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He’ll be eligible for the AHL whenever next season starts – the NHL is hoping for Dec. 1 but that is increasingly seeming overly optimistic – but he could earn a regular role for the Islanders.
His one game of playoff experience certainly won’t hurt.
Andy Greene is an unrestricted free agent, Ryan Pulock and Toews are restricted free agents with arbitration rights and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello may have to dip into his defense depth either to alleviate a salary-cap crunch or to acquire scoring help up front. Mayfield and Nick Leddy are probably the Islanders’ most attractive trade chips among the defensemen and Johnny Boychuk has two seasons remaining on a seven-year, $42 million deal.
"He was with us all season," Mayfield said of Dobson. "He could have stepped into any game all year and been just fine. He knows that."