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.
There haven’t been that many seasons in recent years when the New York Islanders had the type of youth ready to crack the lineup and become regulars.
You have to go back to 2013-14, when Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan (remember him?) Brock Nelson, and now the now-departed Ryan Strome were all rookies who all joined and played for the Islanders at the same time. Now four years later, Josh Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield are all in that same position as the club transitions to a more youthful core on at both forward and on the blue line. It can be argued that this crop of rookies might be the best the Islanders have had since the beginning of the decade and in terms of being ready to have a significant effect.
Now keep in mind with rookies that mistakes will be made. But that just comes with the maturation of a young player. Beyond that, the potential and chance to ingrain themselves with their teammates and fans is though the roof.
We’ll begin with Joshua Ho-Sang. Ho-Sang is already a fan favorite. He got the call late last season playing the final 21 games as the Islanders were pushing for a playoff spot. Ho-Sang showed the kind of potential he has to be a future star. His rushes up the ice, ability to create space for his teammates, and the overall flair in his game, were all just a preview of what’s to come for the 21-year old.
This year, now a year older and a year wiser, Ho-Sang has the makings of a possible Calder Trophy finalist. Still defined as a rookie, the field might be led by Ho-Sang who will anchor the Isles second line. Beyond him dazzling on the second line, I would look for Ho-Sang, because of his speed and hands, to become an excellent penalty killer and power play specialist.
Just a step below Ho-Sang is 20-year old Mathew Barzal.
Barzal, who has been the prized jewel of the Isles farm system since he was drafted in 2015, has succeeded at every level he’s played on. He co-captained his Seattle Thunderbirds squad to the WHL Championship last year, while also being named WHL Playoff MVP. Barzal was only here for two games last year, and looked overwhelmed. But this season, he has a chance to make his mark as one of the future centers on the team.
Barzal’s offensive game overall is exceptional, and his vision is beyond comparison. The 20-year old’s play-making and ability to finish are two assets that could be a problem for opponents facing the Islanders on a nightly basis. And just like Ho-Sang, Barzal’s passing prowess could add another element to the Islanders power play that has struggled in recent seasons.
We move to the blue line, where one name more than the rest will get all the fanfare this season, Ryan Pulock.
Since being drafted in 2012, Pulock has only gotten a taste of the NHL instead of getting a full bite. He came up late during the 15-16 season and played 15 games and stuck around for the Isles run in the playoffs. Last year before he had a chance to get going, Pulock broke his foot. He spent the rest of the year in Bridgeport where he was clearly head and shoulders above the competition.
For 2017-18, Pulock has the chance to finally live up to his hype. As the number three d-man, Pulock size and skill will make him very reliable. His 100 mph slap shot five-on-five and on the power play, can become a weapon in the Isles arsenal.
Last but not least, we come to Scott Mayfield.
Now technically to be labeled a rookie in the NHL for a full season, the player must play more than 25 games. Will make an exception for Mayfield, who only played 25 games last year. We’ve gotten a sample size last year of what the 6’4, 205 big man can do, but this season is where that size and his physicality can take him and New York over the top. Mayfield’s shot, while not as lethal as Pulock’s, still packs a punch. His stable presence at both ends of the ice despite his troubles skating still can be advantage for the Isles who don’t contain a plethora of two-way defensemen.
This season is going to be big for the New York Islanders and their future. The old saying, “The future is now” is staring the organization right in the face. How these rookies step up to the plate will say a lot about what to expect from the Isles in the coming years.