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Taub: The Time Is Now for Michael Dal Colle

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Michael Dal Colle has finally earned the benefit of the doubt from many of his critics — mostly Islanders fans.

It’s taken longer than people expected, but the blue and orange faithful have warmed up to the idea of Dal Colle being an actual piece of the team’s future. The 23-year-old Richmond Hill native is no longer a skidmark left from the debacle that was the Garth Snow regime. Instead, Dal Colle now has a chance to be what the Islanders hoped he’d be when they drafted him fifth overall in 2014 — a key offensive threat.

While it might seem a little far-fetched, maybe some should have seen Dal Colle’s progression coming. Examining his last three seasons, the left-winger began to show the offensive upside that had scouts projecting him as the future goal-scoring winger aside former Islander, John Tavares.

In 2016-17, Dal Colle elevated his game in Bridgeport and posted 41 points in 75 games. A year later, he started producing consistently early on and got the attention of the Isles brass, prompting his first call-up to the big club in early January. Dal Colle only saw a few games of action but was basically lost in the madness that was coach Doug Weight’s run-and-gun system. Once he returned to the minors, Dal Colle’s confidence didn’t seem to waver though he ended the season with 24 points in 60 games played.

There was something there though with Dal Colle and it finally came to a head last season. Dal Colle another so-so camp in September, but once his season in the AHL started, Dal Colle found his game. His play earned him his first AHL All-Star nod and another shot with the varsity. And he didn’t let that chance go to waste.

Dal Colle appeared in 28 games for the Isles in 2018-19 — mostly the second half — but showed a side to his game that got people talking. He only recorded seven points, and while some might not tab that as worthy of praise, Dal Colle was effective. Mostly used on the third line, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder showed off his improved skating, how he’s matured physically, and his underrated skill. Dal Colle also got short stints on the top two lines.

“Michael didn’t have much pace during training camp,” Trotz told Newsday following the game where Dal Colle notched his first NHL goal. “Maybe he was a player lacking a little bit of confidence. I think he’s got pace back into his game. He’s got size. He’s got a lot of things you look for.”

Though he only got to appear in one postseason game — game four in Carolina in the second round — Dal Colle had done enough in those three months to finally earn respect. The organization rewarded him with a new two-year deal as well. In addition, Dal Colle has now put himself in a position to make a name for himself this year.

No longer a prospect, Dal Colle has the opportunity to be a regular contributor for the Isles. He already received a ringing endorsement from Trotz and could be another one of those bottom-six forwards that flies under the radar.

We saw how vital it was for the Islanders to have an effective bottom-six last season — and in years past — for them to be successful. Dal Colle in that third-line role is where he might thrive the most. And it’s not just because he would be paired with established vets in Leo Komarov — who he played a majority with last year — and newcomer Derick Brassard, but because he brings more size, speed and scoring touch to that trio. The Isles were one of the more deficiently offensive teams a year ago, so having Dal Colle as the go-to guy on a defensive-focused line could add more juice to the team’s attack.

Where Dal Colle should attract attention is on the power play.

Trotz and new power-play boss Jim Hiller are going to have to sort out who they want out there, but Dal Colle might be an underrated option for one of those slots. Dal Colle has proven to be productive on the man-advantage from his time in the AHL. In the 34 games he played last year, he tallied six power play goals on the Sound Tigers top unit. The Isles were abysmal 5-on-4 in 2018-19 and they still lack a sniper to use at their disposal. Throwing Dal Colle into that mix wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

A lot of players are going to be under the spotlight this season for the Isles. Some might not think Dal Colle would be one of them, but he is. He’s quietly evolved into a more confident player and someone who could play a factor in the team trying to have sustained success.

This might be stating the obvious, but this is most likely Josh Ho-Sang’s last shot to have any type of future with the Islanders.

The good thing so far with him this preseason, there’s been not a peep about any off or on the ice episodes. The more things stay quiet for him, the better. He’s got good competition with Dal Colle and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, which is a good focus for him. The Isles can definitely use Ho-Sang — especially for a team still wanting more sizzle at the forward position — but his lightning rod personality always seems to get in the way.

Speaking of Wahlstrom, it’s great that he’s shown a little bit of what he can bring to the table in training camp thus far. He’s backed up his reputation with his wicked shot, shown the willingness to mix it up physically with the opposition, and that he can use his frame effectively with the puck on his stick.

Mathew Barzal, whom Wahlstrom has skated with a few times since camp got underway, looks like he’s in midseason form. He was flying on Tuesday against the Flyers and his two assists had the small gathering at Nassau Coliseum oohing and ahhing.

If that one game is an indication of the type of year Barzal is going to have, the Islanders should be a threat in the Metro once again.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_

 

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