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30 for 30: Will the first line join the NHL’s Elite?

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.

For the first time in four years and probably since he arrived, John Tavares has two legit wingers to play with.

Anders Lee and acquired forward Jordan Eberle make up the other two-thirds behind Tavares. And the fact of the matter is, Lee is coming off the best season of his young career, while Eberle is starting fresh with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. This trio has a chance to be not only really special, but one of the best first lines the league has to offer.

Jordan Eberle was brought here from Edmonton for the sole purpose of solidifying that missing wing next to John Tavares. In his nine seasons, Eberle averaged 54 points a season. Tavares hasn’t had a ton of wingers that would accumulate those numbers since he was drafted. But aside from the numbers, Eberle impeccable skill-set and craftiness will elevate both Lee and Tavares’s overall game. Eberle playing with a “chip on his shoulder” could be another factor as to why the first line has an opportunity to be elite. When players have something to prove, same in Eberle’s case, they won’t need much motivation to make their presence felt.

While Eberle is the new kid on the block, Anders Lee has now been around for a while, and after he broke out last year, his role on the first line can’t be denied.

Lee’s 34 goals a year ago might become a footnote because of how good the Islanders first line possibly can be. Awhile back, I spoke of Lee having a chance to score 40 this year, that hasn’t changed. Lee is the preliminary goal-scorer with Tavares and Eberle most likely the playmakers. Lee’s scoring prowess and overall skill brings much needed balance to that first line. His place on the three-man unit will make the line even more underrated.Teams could overlook Lee during games, focusing more on stopping Eberle and Tavares.

Let’s get to the cornerstone of that first line, John Tavares.

Forget about the contract, Tavares is the main force that will drive that first line this year. He found all the chemistry with Lee last year, and him and Eberle go way back and have a developed chemistry from back in their World Junior days. Tavares is also coming off a so called “down” year a season ago, so he won’t need much motivation to bounce back. Tavares in the middle of Lee and Eberle could be in for the best season of his career. He and Eberle are the duo fans have been craving for years. One that can make magic playing together.

Some other reasons why the line will be so dynamic, Tavares will no longer have to carry the line as he’s done in the past. Plus, the addition of Eberle, with his offensive mindset, will take the pressure off Tavares. Tavares in recent years has tried to do it all himself on more than one occasion. With two other players next to him that can carry the load, those days should be long gone. Also, under Doug Weight, I can’t see the line being broken up unless something crazy occurs. That element will help Tavares grow even stronger affinity for Eberle and Lee.

No matter how you look at it, this Islander first line will be the best the team has had since the early 2000s. This line has everything to offer, and all the players have a special quality that can push them as a unit up next to the Crosby line, Ovechkin line, Matthews lines of the world. I also believe that this line succeeding is the x-factor if the Islanders not only return to the playoffs, but finally establish themselves as a legit contender in the Eastern Conference.

For the Lee-Tavares-Eberle line this year, the possibilities are endless. A trio like this doesn’t come around all the time, and each player individually and as a unit need to take advantage of it. Many things will determine the Islanders future this year, and the new first line taking it to the next level is at the top of that list.

About Rob Taub

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