Next season can’t come soon enough if you’re an Islanders fan. Here’s a look at what’s to come in 2015-16 and beyond.
2015 Draft Picks:
Mathew Barzal (1st, 16th overall): A top 10 talent that just happened to fall right into Garth Snow’s lap. Barzal is crafty forward, who could be NHL ready in two years, if he develops on the right track. Even coming off a shortened year due to a knee injury, Barzal’s skating and skill with the puck is top-notch. He needs to bulk up, but it shouldn’t be of concern especially with all the talent in his game.
Anthony Beauvillier (1st, 28th overall): Just like Barzal, Beauvillier’s size doesn’t take away from what he brings on the ice. Beauvillier plays like he shot out of a cannon, and that’s just one of the good things about his game. His skill-set is strong and the pace he plays at is elevated anytime the puck is on his stick. Another prospect that could be in the NHL very quick if all things go accordingly.
Mitchell Vande Sompel (3rd, 82nd overall): The connection between the Islanders and the Oshawa Generals is unbelievable. Vande Sompel, a teammate of another Islander prospect (Michael Dal Colle) is a potent offensive d-man who makes smart decisions on both sides of the puck. The 5’10 youngster needs to improve in some defensive aspects, but that will happen if he continues to build his confidence and body up. Come a few years from now, Vande Sompel could become another spoke in the wheel of the offensive d-men developed in the Isles system.
Parker Wotherspoon (4th, 112th overall): Wotherspoon brings a heap of value even being picked in round four. Wotherspoon is a two-way blue-liner who skates extremely well, and uses his wheels to generate offense for his teammates. Wortherspoon has high-end instincts with and without the puck. He doesn’t seem to get fazed when under pressure, as he uses his tall stature to protect the puck and uses his stick to stop opponents when on the rush or cycling the puck. With the system pilling up with defense-men, Wotherspoon might have to wait years to make it to the show but when he does his impact will be felt immediately.
Ryan Pilon (5th, 147th overall): The cousin of former Islander Rich Pilon, Islanders fans should keep an eye on this young man. For one, he’s former defensive partners with Ryan Pulock, and two: his work ethic is impressive. Pilon, can get it done on both offense and defense. His shot accuracy and release is overwhelming, while his skating makes him well-rounded in all three zones. Hopefully in three to five years, this Pilon will be suiting up in Brooklyn.
Andong Song (6th, 172nd overall): Yet another defenseman, but being the first Chinese hockey player ever drafted is a honor. Not much can be found on Song, but being the captain of his team in China shows he has the ability to be a leader. The 6’1, 194 pound blue-liner could one day play huge role in the depth the Islanders organization has acquired, but don’t sell the kid short, he could one day be wearing an A on his sweater.
Petter Hansson (7th, 202nd overall): Seventh round picks are hard to talk about, but Hansson does have potential. His game will develop playing in Sweden in the coming years. Hansson does have a bite for the offense going by the breakout year he had this past season. It might take awhile, but Hansson could become a sixth/seventh defenseman in his future.
Bolstering the Roster:
Resigning Thomas Hickey to what will be in the 2 to 2.5 million dollar range is a bargain. Hickey knows the system and plays his role as the fifth/sixth defenseman to a tee. He brings a lot of value to back-end with his steady play. Hickey also provides a goal here and there, plus he’s not afraid to join the rush if the opportunity arrives.
Now that Anders Lee has been retained for another four years, Brock Nelson is the only forward that Garth Snow needs to focus on. Nelson plays a huge role, and in part makes up a portion of the identity the Islanders offense wants to have in the future. Nelson could be alongside John Tavares come the start of the season. The 23-year old has not even hit his peak yet. He’s ready for a breakout campaign.
Michael Grabner’s unknown status could open the door for top prospects Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang to claim a roster spot. Both kids bring their own unique style to the game and play at a high speed, something the Isles offense is very fond off.
Letting Lubomir Visnovsky go is a smart move. With his history of injuries, not resigning him gives the young defensive prospects a reason to fight even harder for a spot on the big club. Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield are easily an upgrade from the 38-year old Visnovsky not only because of their age, but particularly in the size department.
Shaping up for 2015-16:
In goal, Jaroslav Halak should be more comfortable after having a season with the Islanders under his belt. Unrestricted free agent Michal Neuvirth would be a sustainable back-up to Halak. These two together could be a pleasant one-two combo in between the pipes.
On defense, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will reprise their roles as the top pairing. Travis Hamonic will be back to 100%, as will Calvin De Haan which makes the Isles d-corps very challenging to play against. Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait will provide quality minutes as the third pair in the bottom six. Infusing Ryan Pulock and possibly Scott Mayfield gives the Islanders depth and more size as well as as another offensive threat with the puck on the blue-line.
There are all sorts of positives for the Islanders offense going into the next season. Captain John Tavares will again lead the top nine as the most deadly offensive weapon in the Islanders arsenal. Even with the Kyle Okposo contract situation, he will return to that “bull in a china shop” style Isles fans were accustomed to before his eye injury. Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee will have an immense impact as they all are experienced and hungry to win. Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Josh Bailey will all look to improve on solid seasons in 2013-14. The always maligned Bailey looks ready to take his game to a new level, so keep an eye out. The fourth line will do what they do best, hit and make the opponents life as miserable as possible. It might be a long shot, but if either Michael Dal Colle or Joshua Ho-Sang claims a roster spot, there will be even more explosiveness added to an already dynamic Isles offense.
Summer of Snow II?:
It’s a long way till September, but we all know just by what occurred last summer, you never know what Garth Snow has up his sleeve. Looking at what Snow can do to fill the teams remaining voids (back-up goaltender, defensemen and another veteran winger), there are options out there that could be worth a try.
In regards to the back-up goaltender situation, Michal Neuvirth is a wise option and would make a satisfying 1-2 punch in goal with Halak. Thomas Greiss, Karri Ramo sound like viable options as well.
With Lubomir Visnovsky all but certain not to return, Snow could take a flier on Paul Martin, Francois Beauchemin or Andrej Sekera to fill a spot on defense.
Another veteran winger makes sense as well not only with Michael Grabner looking to be on his way out, but especially with all the young talent in the top nine. Scottie Upshall, Viktor Stalberg, Joel Ward and Justin Williams are all choices that could be likely.