With exit interviews now complete, it’s time for evaluation of the 2017-18 New York Islanders. The club as a whole experienced their worst season in four years, only compiling 80 points. The Islanders also missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Everyone played a part in what was a very disappointing season the past seven months and giving out grades for each individual player, they were given the grade based on their contributions and performance. Some might agree and other disagree with which player received which grade, but that’s the beauty of conversation, especially when it comes to this franchise.
Our Rob Taub provides his marks for every player that suited up for the blue and orange this year.
C John Tavares: B+
The Captain produced his most productive season points-wise in two years, totaling 84 points. He played in every game this season and was the anchor of the Isles first line between Anders Lee and Josh Bailey (will get to them later). The reason Tavares didn’t get a grade featuring an A, he played a pivotal part in the Isles defensive woes and at times, his leadership during the year was called in to question.
C Mathew Barzal: A+
No one — other than John Tavares — has had the impact on a franchise the way Barzal did this past season. Becoming the second line center, dazzling fans, opposing players, and even his own teammates, Barzal’s rookie season was terrific. The chemistry he developed with Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle was outstanding, while his domination of the 2017-18 NHL rookie class was special in itself.
C Jordan Eberle: A-
Nothing else needs to be said, other than the Islanders won the Jordan Eberle-Ryan Strome trade by a country mile. Eberle came right into the fold and fit in like a glove, showing he was able to produce wherever he was thrown in to at the top of the lineup. The Regina, SK native regained his confidence very early and flourished as a major part of the Isles prolific offense.
RW Josh Bailey: A
Even though he slowed down in the second half of the season, Josh Bailey proved his breakout season was not a fluke. His 71 points, a new career high from his season prior (56) ranked him third on the team, while his 53 assists were a ten-point improvement from his best as a pro (43). Bailey’s ability to not only adapt to new teammates, help drive the first line, and continue to be defensively responsible earns him a high mark.
LW Anders Lee: A
Anyone who scores 40 goals deserves an A as a grade. Lee is no different. The 27-year old Edina, MN product sustained his goal-scoring ways from 2016-17 where he notched a career-best 34 goals. Why Lee also deserves recognition as he’s turned in to one of the top power forwards in the NHL, he’s a force as a net-front presence, and he showed his skill is evolving — notching the most assists (22) in his five years as a pro.
C/W Anthony Beauvillier: B-
I would have given Beauvillier an A if he lit up the goal sheet all season, not only the second half of the year. Still, Beauvillier — after struggling in the first 40-plus games of the season and going back to Bridgeport to regain his confidence mid-season — progressed immensely and gave the Islanders another scoring threat. His second half of the year was as good as any Isles forward — other than another fellow young stud, Mathew Barzal. Beauvillier did show exactly how great he could be when his confidence is way up, and taking that into next year, will only turn him into an elite player.
C Brock Nelson: C-
Nelson does deserve a lower grade for not hitting 20 for a fourth consecutive campaign. But he did still total 19 goals which shoots him up a little. Nelson — who was expected to step up this year after being called out for his inconsistent play last year — did his disappearing act again this year to the ire of the coaches and the fans. His soft play, only showing up for a few games or week at a time, and overall performance, should call for him to be sent to greener pastures.
LW Andrew Ladd: D
It’s really bad that Andrew Ladd, who before he got hurt was performing very well, could never return to form when he returned from injury in late January. But the problem that also lied with the 32-year old, is he was never put with the right players to succeed (Brock Nelson). Fans became incredibly frustrated because the team is paying Ladd $5.5 million for five more seasons and he hasn’t lived up to the billing, all the while Ladd himself being very unhappy with how he underachieved this season.
LW Nikolai Kulemin: N/A
Being out for the entire year after being hurt since late October, Kulemin’s season can’t be put under the microscope. He seemed to be in the perfect role before he got hurt. As a UFA, it was a rough go for Kulemin, who will be looking for a new home.
RW Cal Clutterbuck: C-
I’ve always been one to give Cal the benefit of the doubt because of the amount of physical toll his body goes through. That said, Clutterbuck — who still has yet to play a full 82-game slate since joining the Isles in 2013-14 — didn’t have the same impact offensively he has been able to in recent seasons. Clutterbuck did record 226 hits (10th best in the NHL), but the minimal amount he provided at both ends of the ice, hurt the team overall.
C Casey Cizikas: B-
Despite the very little contributions the Islanders did get from the bottom six all season, Casey Cizikas was a bright spot. Cizikas — who has been considered the heart and soul of the team after Matt Martin left — in the 64 games he played, never took a shift off and left everything he had out on the ice. He did record his lowest amount of points in three seasons, but overall what he brings to the team as a whole, can’t be taken for granted.
C Tanner Fritz: C
Tanner Fritz definitely earned his call-up to the NHL this year after battling his way through the minors. The 26-year old did show some promise and exhibited his skill in the 34 games he did play in. Despite the small sample size, Fritz could be a solid bottom-six piece possibly next year and for the team moving forward.
LW Ross Johnston: B
I know what you’re thinking. You’re giving that guy a B? Yes, I am, because Johnston was brought up for one reason: to give the Isles some toughness and grit, and that’s exactly what he did. Johnston did add some offense, but his fighting and having his teammates back wasn’t seen enough this year by the entire team.
LW Chris Wagner: N/A
Wagner, who was acquired at the deadline from the Ducks for forward Jason Chimera, showed very little in his short stint with the Islanders. Brought in for his physical presence, the 26-year old failed to really give coaches and management a reason to use him in more situations down the stretch.
C Alan Quine and LW Shane Prince: N/A
Neither Quine or Prince was in the lineup for a significant amount of time to be given a grade. Both dealt with injuries all season long, so they both get a pass.
Nick Leddy: D-
When you’re close to the worst plus-minus of the league, it definitely says something. For Leddy, his season went from the highest of the high early to the lowest of lows as the season ended. He really regressed unquestionably when injuries started to ravage the Islanders blueline, and revealed that he can only handle so much of a load on the backend without any help.
Johnny Boychuk: C+
Just like Cal Clutterbuck, Johnny Boychuk also gets a bit of a higher mark for playing through pain most likely the entire year. Boychuk was only limited to 58 games this season (his lowest amount as an Islander), but he was still able to provide offensively with his booming slap shot. With his body breaking down and the game getting faster, From how his season unfolded, Boychuk’s role on defense could see a new description next year.
Ryan Pulock: A-
Even though he didn’t really come on strong till mid-January, Ryan Pulock was the best defensemen for the Isles this season. Pulock struggled to find his game early in the season, but once he did, he was a force. His play in his own end improved dramatically as he showed more poise and confidence as the year went on. Offensively, Pulock’s wicked slap shot and his underrated passing made him a huge benefactor on offense, leading many, including myself, to believe he will be a surefire top-four defenseman next season.
Thomas Hickey: C-
This might have been the last time Thomas Hickey dons the Islander uniform, but he did do an ok job this past season. Even with him being apart of the worst defense in the league, Hickey did have his best year offensively with 25 points. His small size has always made him a target (this year being no different), but it might be time for the team to move on from him with some talented prospects in the pipeline.
Calvin de Haan: N/A
de Haan does not get a grade from me because of the notable time he missed after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury back in December. The Isles desperately missed de Haan on the backend and his defensive prowess. Another UFA, there’s a legit question mark as to whether de Haan will be back with the Islanders by the time training camp rolls around.
Adam Pelech: D
Adam Pelech was protected in last June’s expansion draft for reasons still unknown. But after getting that nod, many expected him to take a big leap and own the number three d-man slot. That didn’t take place in the worst way — as Pelech still displayed that he has a lot more of his game to develop and that he needs to fix the flaws that plagued his defensive performance all season.
Scott Mayfield: C-
Mayfield did get hit by the injury bug towards the beginning of February and didn’t return until the end of the season. Before that, the St. Louis, MO native wasn’t playing that bad. Mayfield revealed this year that he’s capable of being a dependable five/six d-man, and that his size and shot are worthy of playing time.
Dennis Seidenberg: F
Sorry Seids, but there was no need for the Islanders to re-sign him for this season. It was hard to believe for many thought that he would repeat the sound season he had in 2016-17. Every game Seidenberg appeared in this season, reaffirmed that the game is too fast for him and that it’s time to possibly hang it up.
Sebastian Aho: C
To go from a draft pick last June to the NHL in a span of seven months, I’ll give credit where credit is due to Sebastian Aho. Only playing 22 games, Aho did exude some good skill and poise in his decision making. He will definitely be fighting for a full-time spot come September.
Brandon Davidson: N/A
Another deadline acquisition, Davidson had very little time to show the potential he could have as a future asset to the Islanders defense. We did see some offensive upside from the 26-year old, but nothing to really allow for an overall impression.
Jaroslav Halak: C-
It’s hard to blame the failure of this year on just the defense. Because in reality, the goaltending played just as critical a role in the Isles downfall. Halak’s numbers were his worst in his tenure with the team and his early-season struggles (giving up soft goal after soft goal) were shadowed by the amount of offensive support he was getting. Now a UFA, Halak’s four years with the Islanders had its ups and downs — particularly last season — but he did as much as he could with the very little help he received this season.
Thomas Greiss: F
Let’s not beat around the bush, Thomas Greiss was the worst goaltender in the National Hockey League this season. It’s unfathomable to think that Greiss had a winning record for a majority of the year, despite being shaky every game he was in and his confidence completely gone from the outset. Greiss never seemed to have the focus he had the past two years, and he plus the team paid for it dearly.
Christopher Gibson: B-
It was only a few games, but Christopher Gibson did impress when he was thrown into the fire in March. Gibson left fans with a glimpse of hope that he could be a worthy backup in the near future. And the fact that he’s a standup goalie instead of the usual butterfly, did show his unique nature.
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