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.
When it comes to being a winning team in the National Hockey League, it’s all about having a second and third line that can be relied on. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ve won back-to-back Stanley Cups resulting from their second and third lines ability to cause havoc for the opposition. In the New York Islanders case, having a strong second and third line the past few seasons has been difficult to come by.
If you didn’t know by now, the forward position this season is set to be a massive strength for New York. Behind the first line of John Tavares, Anders Lee, and newcomer Jordan Eberle, the Islanders have a ton of options and intangibles that could result in some very good production from the middle of the lineup.
It starts down the middle.
The Islanders have three centers that will be fighting to secure a place which should lead for some good competition, but also an advantage for the coaching staff and management. Brock Nelson is coming off his third straight 20-goal season and brings the size and experience needed for a second-line center. Mathew Barzal more than Anthony Beauvillier will be gunning to take that second line role from Nelson with his speed and offensive repertoire. Even if he doesn’t win the job over Nelson, Barzal will definitely have a shot to be the number three center. Anthony Beauvillier might have a thing or two to say about that. After being in the NHL for a full season last year, Beauvillier will be looking to show that his play in the second half wasn’t a fluke, and that he can be a regular full time.
As for the wings, head coach Doug Weight has a plethora of options he can experiment with.
Depending on who is the number two center, Weight will have Joshua Ho-Sang, Andrew Ladd, Josh Bailey, Jason Chimera, and Anthony Beauvillier to choose from. Andrew Ladd will probably find himself on the second line with Ho-Sang. But with how he was able to contribute throughout the top-nine last year, it’s not impossible to think that he could find himself on the third line on one or two occasions. I firmly believe Josh Ho-Sang is a lock to be on the second line. Ho-Sang will be the primary playmaker behind Tavares and Eberle, and his speed and hands suits perfectly to be on that line.
Josh Bailey is also a candidate for the second line. He’s coming off his best season a year ago, and the skill he has can be a huge plus. But Bailey on third line as well, could provide some balance with his line-mates, whomever they may be. Then there’s Jason Chimera and Anthony Beauvillier. If Beauvillier wins the third center slot, Chimera will be locked in as his counterpart on the left. Chimera size and speed, combined with Beauvillier’s feisty style of play could make for a very solid third pairing. The same can be said for Beau and Bailey who both play a more skillful style. Beauvillier can also be thrown on the wing as he was for most of the campaign last year where he showed his potential.
Overall, unless bitten by the health bug, I can possibly see the second line consisting of Andrew Ladd, Brock Nelson and Josh Ho-Sang. That leaves the third line looking like Jason Chimera on the left, Mathew Barzal/Anthony Beauvillier in the middle, and Josh Bailey on the right.
Look, whatever line combos you throw out there, there’s no doubt they give the Islanders a chance to win every night.
Whether it’s speed, skill, secondary-scoring, tenacity, or physicality, the 2017-18 version of the Isles second and third units will have it. Having that type of nucleus will make a difference going from a non-playoff team to a contender.