As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
What’s the thing to look for in a player that is ready to breakout?
Is it having a good season the year before? Is it looking a guy who was quiet throughout the season? Or is it pointing out the straight obvious?
Last year on offense, it was Anders Lee. Lee broke out by leading the team in goals with 34 and notching a career high 52 points. On defense, it was Calvin de Haan who totaled 25 points and was the Islanders best defensemen all season.
Who will be the Anders Lee of this season? There’s a few names that come to mind and certain reasons why.
Andrew Ladd could be a candidate. Ladd is going in to his second season with the team after taking awhile last year to adjust to his surroundings. He did score 23 goals last season, but only ended the year with 31 points. Only registering 31 points, including only eight assists, will be a huge motivator for Ladd in 2017-18. Add in that Ladd will start the season healthy and probably anchor the Isles second line with rookie sensation Josh Ho-Sang, he has a chance to put up big numbers this season.
Ladd’s most likely line mate, Josh Ho-Sang is also one player to keep an eye on.
This will be Ho-Sang’s first full NHL season after getting a taste of the pros when he played 21 games late last year. There’s no doubt this year that Sanger could potentially find himself in the Calder Trophy conversation. Ho-Sang is set up to be the Isles next major offensive weapon behind Tavares. We saw the explosiveness and flare Ho-Sang brings to the table, so this year he will have a shot to do it each and every night. Ho-Sang’s laid back demeanor will also be a key to him going full throttle this season. His versatility gives him a chance to make an impact on any line he’s thrown on, plus from a special teams standpoint, where his speed can make a him a threat.
Brock Nelson also fits the bill to bust loose this year as well.
You would think scoring 20-plus goals a season would be enough, but in Nelson’s case, there’s no reason his goal-scoring shouldn’t increase. Nelson has the talent to exceed much more than he has in the past few years, due in part to his size and skill. But also his teammates know the type of game he plays. Being under a bit of pressure from the coaching staff and management this season might also drive Nelson to raise his game.
On the blue line, two names in particular stand out. Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield.
Pulock if he wins a spot on the Islanders roster will be plugged in to the number four role on defense. The 22-year old has had some bad luck in recent seasons getting injured before he can showcase why he’s so valuable, which could push him. The past few years, Pulock has honed his defensive game to take on a bigger role and solidify his spot in that bottom six. His offensive prowess will make Pulock a threat at the point in the offensive zone and on either the first or second power play unit.
Scott Mayfield however, based on his comments this week, is hungry to finally become a regular. Securing that open defensive slot full time will give Mayfield all the incentive he needs to tear it up this year. Mayfield, 24, size and physical style as seen in the past, make him a duel-threat that could lead to increased minutes and solid numbers. He also has an excellent shot that could make him an unknown asset that teams could mismatch.
2017-18 has all the makings of an interesting season for a number of players on the New York Islanders. The players who end up breaking out will because they took initiative and because they are ready for bigger and better things. Those are the players not only good teams have, but great teams have.