Barry Trotz deserves a ton of credit for turning around the New York Islanders’ defense. A small part though should deservedly go to Devon Toews.
Toews, a former fourth-round selection in 2014, got the call up just before Christmas after just missing out on making the team out of training camp.
Taking the place of the injured Thomas Hickey, he helped the team improve on offense, defense and the power play.
The 25-year-old Abbotsford native played in 48 games and totaled a sound 18 points, sixth-most for a rookie defenseman. In the postseason, Toews went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top guns — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel — and looked very comfortable. He also was the best player for the Islanders in their whole second-round series for the Islanders against the Carolina Hurricanes, despite being swept in four games.
The Islanders haven’t had a homegrown defenseman of Toews’ potential since Bryan McCabe (1995-98).
McCabe looked to be a sure thing from his first couple of years before he was traded after just two and half seasons to Vancouver. It’s still deemed one of “Mad Mike” Milbury’s most awful moves as McCabe went on to have a solid 16-year career. With Lou Lamoriello at the helm though, you can bet the fate McCabe suffered won’t be the case for Toews.
Transitioning to this year, all the fanfare Toews has earned makes him the top candidate to be The Guy on the back end.
Toews is already being acknowledged as the team’s best two-way defenseman and is positioned as a top-four d-man heading into training camp. He, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech will most likely make up that core.
Toews draws a lot of attention with his smooth skating and calm demeanor.
He’s proven he can handle top minutes in high-pressure situations. Toews averaged over 19 minutes of ice time in the playoffs while also being elevated to the quarterback on the power play in the second round.
Taking the pressure of some of the veterans is another way Toews could further his case as a legitimate stud.
The remarkable transformation the Islanders had defensively have raised the expectations, with many hoping for a repeat performance. Toews can play an important part giving Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey more breathing room.
Toews has the ability to get to the next level at both ends of the ice. He did it while he was starring at Quinnipiac and in his three seasons in the AHL.
When he was the number one d-man down in Bridgeport, Toews was an offensive dynamo. Before being injured, he was an AHL All-Star who recorded 40 assists in one season. He continued that level of play — eight goals in 30 games in 2017-18, five goals in 24 games before getting called up a year ago. That drive Toews displayed in Bridgeport was the same in this past postseason, where he scored only one goal but recorded 17 shots on net in eight games.
Defensively, Toews instincts make him a rare breed. There are very few flaws to his game.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) May 1, 2019
I’m not sure anyone is expecting Toews to turn into a Morgan Rielly or John Carlson type next year, but he will have the opportunity to get to that echelon.
Islanders fans are already high on what they’ve witnessed to this point, but they believe Toews can be the organization’s next great d-man. He’s got the poise of a five-year veteran and the attitude that can make him a star.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on me to perform or do certain things,” Toews said last season. “I just try to do what I do, and help the team win.”
The Islanders defense is now set to be a major strength for the foreseeable future. The core that’s intact and vision of Noah Dobson, Sebastian Aho, and Bode Wilde are not far away. But, it’s Toews who might be the one who takes that strength to further heights.
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