Noah Dobson is no NHL neophyte. Still just 21, he’s in his third NHL season and the Islanders certainly hoped he would mature into a potential top-pair defenseman when they selected him 12th overall in 2018.
The adversity the Islanders have faced, namely a COVID-19 outbreak and an injury to top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock, seems to have accelerated that process. Dobson has been the best player among the Islanders’ skaters of late, certainly among the defensemen in all three zones as he’s shown an improved confidence in his defensive positioning and stickhandling in the Islanders’ zone and in joining the attack up ice.
"He’s had to take on a bigger role," coach Barry Trotz said. "Sometimes, you’re forced to grow up real quick in tough situations. I think he has."
The last-place Islanders (5-10-5) will try to snap an 0-8-3 skid on Tuesday night at Ottawa. They did not practice on Monday after a weekend back-to-back as their modest point streak grew to three games.
Dobson scored the equalizer with four seconds left in regulation before Chicago won a 3-2 shootout on Sunday night at UBS Arena. Dobson set a career high by logging 24:18 with four blocked shots in Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Detroit, then bettered that with 26:14 of ice time on Sunday.
Per team statistician Eric Hornick, that’s the most any Islander has played since Pulock logged 26:31 at Vancouver on March 10, 2020.
"The last couple of weeks we had some guys go down and we’ve been playing shorthanded and I’m just trying to elevate and step up," said Dobson, who has a goal and five assists in 18 games and is averaging 19:42 of ice time. "As a 'D' corps as a whole, that’s what we’ve got to do.
"I’m trying to focus on being hard in the 'D' zone and finding ways to get up in the play and help the forwards out and create some offense."
At one point, the Islanders had defensemen Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara in COVID-19 protocol. When Dobson missed a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Nov. 24 at UBS Arena because of a lower-body injury, Scott Mayfield was the only defenseman to dress from the Islanders’ intended top six.
It’s likely no coincidence that the uptick in Dobson’s game after a rocky start to the season — Trotz finally made him a healthy scratch for a 4-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 15 — came as he’s been reunited with veteran Andy Greene the last three games. The two were paired throughout the Islanders’ run to the NHL semifinals last season.
Pelech and Chara have also returned.
"You’re going to have to get some production from the back end," Trotz said. "When you’ve got a lot of defensemen out of the lineup, everybody is sort of staying home because you’re a little bit limited. But now that we’re getting people back, hopefully you’re seeing us play more like we like to play and the way we expect to play."