One of the most important parts of championship-caliber teams are leaders, and last season the Islanders had two really good ones in captain Anders Lee and defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
Now in the stretch run of the 2021 regular season, the Isles have Boychuk in a suit with general manager Lou Lamoriello and Lee is out for the season.
The absence of Boychuk wasn’t as noticeable for the first part of the season as Lee was admirable while leading the team. But since his injury, New York has felt more inconsistent despite an 8-4 record.
Boychuk was more than just a physical presence on the ice for the Islanders, he was a veteran that not only led on the ice but mentored a young group of defensemen that the organization groomed during his tenure with the team. On top of all of that, the Edmonton native brought a championship pedigree; Boychuk won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and reached another Cup final in 2013. That something the Islanders don’t have at all right now outside of Nick Leddy. It isn’t a coincidence that Lamoriello is grooming Boychuk for what looks like a managerial/coach role.
Even with Lee on the ice, the team seemed to miss Boychuk as a mentor in certain games where they didn’t seem to show up, such as Sorokin’s debut where the Islanders fell to the New York Rangers 5-0 or on their 6-3 loss to the Washington Capitals back in late January.
Since Lee’s been out of the lineup, those games seem come more often, highlighted by the 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh on March 27. Even in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders seemed lifeless outside of Anthony Beauvillier’s two goals.
Now with both guys off the ice and good leadership guys with championship experience hard to find, it is crucial for guys inside the organization to step up and fill the void as best as they can.
“We have tremendous confidence in the players in this locker room,” Lamoriello said after the news that Lee’s injury was season ending. “We have tremendous confidence in the leadership, so they will certainly take up that. You don’t simply replace Anders, but if there’s an opportunity to make us better we will do that, but it’s not to replace Anders.”
First and foremost, Mathew Barzal is the future of the organization and he is held to such a high standard by head coach Barry Trotz because he is expected to lead. In the absence of Lee, Barzal needs to kick it into another gear, play more consistently and let his voice carry through the locker room. This current group also need more from Leddy, who is the only current player on the roster who has won at least one Stanley Cup. Leddy’s production has been great this season, but he was acquired at the same time as Boychuk and he can slide into that leadership role.
The interesting dynamic is the Islanders do have good leaders in their locker room. Andy Greene had a stint in New Jersey as a captain and he played in the 2012 Stanley Cup. He is a guy that has not only fit into the Islanders locker room, but he can thrive by helping mentor other guys on the team. J.G. Pageau wore an “A” in Ottawa before arriving to the franchise via trade a year ago.
Lastly, Brock Nelson has received an “A” in the absence of Lee because he has earned it and has become an important guy in the locker room according to Trotz. With the increased leadership role, Nelson needs continue to step up in Lee’s absence and run with this new, recognized leadership role.
All in all, the sky isn’t falling for the Islanders. But this team can take another step forward still without an outside acquisition as long as guys inside the organization can step up.
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