In just three days the new hockey season begins. For the New York Islanders, there are many questions that they will face in 2017-18. 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.
Our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
If you look down the roster of every NHL team before the season, pointing out who will be the “straw that stirs the drink” can be difficult.
Knowing that they missed the playoffs last season by one point (how many times have we mentioned that already?), the New York Islanders discovering who will be that guy who elevates the team to the next level will be crucial to the team having success. They have certain players that fit the bill this season. We know the obvious names, but we’re going to go in a completely different direction, as Andrew Ladd is the X-factor for this year.
Upset? You shouldn’t be.
If you look at the whole package Andrew Ladd brings on and off the ice, this is the year, the Islanders need him the most. Ladd, was the major free-agent acquisition by Garth Snow on the first day of free agency last summer, and his seven-year, $38.5 million dollar contract weighs heavily on franchise. He was brought in for his leadership and experience from winning two Stanley Cups and from when he was the captain of the Winnipeg Jets from 2010 to 2016. That leadership and experience will have an impact on rookie forwards Josh Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal. They can learn the ropes from Ladd, and he can help them adjust more to the fast pace of the NHL, and the lifestyle of an NHL player. Ladd was also brought in for the proverbial power forward role because of his size and scoring touch. He showed those two qualities last year when he scored 23 goals and displayed his underrated shot.
Ladd just has that feel to him this year.
There’s a list of reasons why. And they start with the aforementioned fact that he and his family are now well-adjusted off the ice. Having that component taken care off compared to the difficult situation when he arrived last year, will allow Ladd to shift all his focus to the ice and not have to worry about distractions that could have an effect on his game. Then, there’s also the fact that Ladd is fully healthy. We saw the struggles early in the season a year ago because he was playing hurt and the effect it had on his mindset and style of play. But now 100% percent, Ladd will be ready from the get-go, and he will be a more consistent point producer.
Speaking of points, Ladd looking to bounce back from an underwhelming 31-point season also makes him the guy to watch.
2016-17 was Ladd’s lowest point total since the 2009-10 campaign. This year, Ladd will get playing time with either newbies Barzal or Ho-Sang, which could lead to a lot more scoring chances because of the two rookies skill and passing capability. He will also be one of the anchors of the Islanders forward group behind the first line. Ladd has never hit 30-goals in his career, so that added incentive could be a driving force for Ladd to produce at a more expected rate.
The Islanders failing to make the playoffs is another reason why Ladd is the player to keep watch of.
Ladd was one of the more vocal leaders in the locker room during the good times and the bad times a year ago. And once the team went on their run in the second half, he was right there at the forefront. This season is now the time for Ladd to step it up and show why the organization had faith in bringing him here. Being one of the veterans on the team, he needs to lead the charge not only for the more experienced players on the team, but for the young guns too.
This season is as big as it gets for the Islanders. A lot of things will determine where this team goes, but Andrew Ladd being “the guy”, will be beneficial to the team moving in to the spotlight.