Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
After last season, it was clear that defense was going to become a major priority for the New York Islanders.
One of the pieces of the Isles blueline that was going to have to show improvement was Adam Pelech.
Through 15 games this season — and under a new defensively-structured coach in Barry Trotz — Pelech has one goal and four assists. Five points might not sound like a lot, but think back to the first few weeks of the season when the Islanders were barely getting any offensive production from their backend. The 24-year old’s start to this season hasn’t been the greatest. He was scratched the fourth game of the year in Anaheim during the team’s three game California swing.
Some of Pelech’s struggles could be attributed to getting used to a new system. While that could be the case for nearly the whole roster, Pelech is still one of the younger, developing d-men; so him still not showing signs of improvement could be a cause for worry for the fans and the organization.
It never seemed Pelech would begin to catch the ire of the fans from the way he performed in his first two seasons.
He made his debut during the 2015-16 season and showed in a small sample size — nine games to be exact — that he might turn into a very serviceable NHL defensemen. Having that season cut short due to Throatic outlet syndrome (TOS) was not only scary, but was a major setback for Pelech. Coming back fully healthy for the 16-17 season, he started the year in Bridgeport, With the Isles defense getting bombarded by injuries in the early going, Pelech returned to the big club in early November.
Things seemed back on track for Pelech until he was hit with an upper-body injury in a game against Calgary in late November. He was placed on injured reserve at the beginning of December and ended up missing a month. Once again, Pelech missing time kept him stuck in neutral and never able to jump start his season. Pelech ended that season with only ten points in 44 games played.
Going in to training camp last season, Pelech seemed fit to take on a top-four role with the departure of Travis Hamonic earlier that summer.
The best thing that probably happened for Pelech in that juncture, he had to fight off two fellow youngsters, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield, to earn a regular spot. Pelech outshined his two teammates and finally saw consistent playing time. The problem was — for Pelech and every defensemen on the team last year — that head coach Doug Weight totally abandoned any type of defensive structure. Not having that assurance, played a key part in the regression of Pelech’s two-way game.
Pelech did finish last year with 19 points in 78 games — fourth most for a Isles d-man.
Fast forward to this year, where Pelech after a spotty preseason, gained top-two duty for the start of the season. As much as it was a surprise to many, Pelech saw just four games on the top pair as he struggled to handle the new assignment. Things have gotten somewhat better for Pelech since being reduced down to the third-pair with Johnny Boychuk. Coach Trotz has kept notice.
“I think Pelly is playing with a lot more confidence, he has a role he feels more comfortable with.” Trotz said about Pelech to Newsday.
It’s easy to identify Pelech when he plays with confidence, is when he’s at his best. He’s shown that when his swagger is there, he’s not afraid to take risks and chip in offensively. Right now, Pelech ranks third among Isles d-men in shots with 25. Boychuk and Pulock rank slightly ahead of him.
There’s still a need for more from Pelech if the Isles are going to have success this year. The two mistakes he made in the last game against Florida — getting beat to the net for a goal and taking a penalty that led to the game-winning goal — were not a good look. But it still early, and if Pelech can learn from those type of mistakes and turn them into positives, he can really take a big step forward.
Pelech could use a week like this as a possible spring board.
Seeing the dynamic, and somewhat unexpected Vancouver Canucks attack, will pose for a quality challenge. He should see a good amount of rookie stud Elias Pettersson during the contest. Then comes the first matchup with the Rangers. No question Pelech, as well as the rest of his teammates, will be jacked up for their first test against their crosstown rivals. Finishing up with Dallas on Sunday, it’s another fitting test for Pelech to get a chance to shut down the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov.
With the Islanders winless in their last three and looking to get themselves feeling good again, it’s on Pelech to finally get into a groove.
Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_