FORWARDS: Scoring was not an issue for the Islanders last season as their 261 goals tied for seventh in the NHL, and even with No. 1 center John Tavares bolting for the Maple Leafs via free agency, point production should not be a problem for the top two lines.
Mathew Barzal was the league’s rookie of the year with 22 goals and 63 assists, tying Bryan Trottier’s franchise record for most assists by a rookie. He’ll ascend to the top line with wingman Anthony Beauvillier (21 goals, 15 assists) and either Josh Bailey (18 goals, 53 assists) or Jordan Eberle (25 goals, 34 assists). Anders Lee, who set career highs last season with 40 goals and 62 points, will start the season paired with Brock Nelson (19 goals, 16 assists), who’s being given a chance to play a top-six role.
Still, overall, it’s a bit of an odd mix up front for the Islanders, who seem to be top heavy with bottom-six forwards after president/GM Lou Lamoriello signed Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov and Tom Kuhnhackl and re-acquired fan favorite Matt Martin to reunite him with center Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Ross Johnston also figures to see ice time on the third or fourth line as does veteran Andrew Ladd, once healthy. The 32-year-old Ladd, in the third season of a seven-year, $38.5-million deal, has underperformed so far as an Islander.
The bottom-six glut partially responsible for keeping prospects Kieffer Bellows and Josh Ho-Sang off the roster out of training camp will get worse if Nelson is not suited to be in the top six.
DEFENSEMEN: The Islanders allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season and return six defensemen while losing the very useful Calvin de Haan to the Hurricanes via free agency. The team is hoping Ryan Pulock, 23, can establish himself on the right side of the top pair after notching 10 goals and 22 assists as a rookie.
Devon Toews, 24, limited to 30 games last season for Bridgeport (AHL) because of a shoulder injury, could be this season’s rookie find with his stickhandling and passing ability. Nick Leddy (10 goals, 32 assists) also provides offense but his minus-42 was the worst in the NHL.
Thomas Hickey (five goals, 20 assists), Adam Pelech (three goals, 16 assists), Scott Mayfield (two goals, 10 assists) and Johnny Boychuk (six goals, 12 assists) are also back and veteran Luca Sbisa was signed to a one-year, $1.5-million deal after attending training camp on a professional tryout offer.
GOALIES: The Islanders are staking a large part of their season on better performances from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.
Lehner, 27, signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal after three seasons behind the porous Sabres’ defense and he went 14-26-9 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage last season. On the first day of Islanders’ training camp, the Swede acknowledged his addiction battle with alcohol and pills as well as mental health issues, all which Lehner said have been addressed and are under control.
Greiss, 32, is in the middle season of a three-year, $10-million deal and was 13-8-2 with a 3.82 GAA and .892 save percentage. He was 49-29-9 his first two seasons with the club.
Beat writer's prediction
38-34-10, sixth in Metropolitan Division
The Islanders should be better defensively, including in goal and on the penalty kill, plus Barry Trotz is an upper-echelon coach. Weighing that against John Tavares’ loss should equal a six-point improvement from last season.
This is the second season that Andrew Gross has covered the Islanders for Newsday.