Although the Islanders lost veterans from the 2019-20 season, several of the younger players are stepping up and helping the Islanders to hold third place in the MassMutual East Division.
Losing players such as Devon Toews, Derrick Brassard and Johnny Boychuk left sizable holes at every position in the Isles’ starting lineup, and temporarily tarnished the team chemistry. Once general manager Lou Lamoriello signed off on Mathew Barzal’s three-year contract extension, it pushed Trotz to put much more intense pressure on the young guys.
“All of a sudden we were an old team to adding five or six young guys,” Trotz said. “That’s what you have to do in the salary cap era. You have to develop players, they have to play for you, but they have to produce for you. They just can’t be in the lineup and take up minutes. We’re starting to get production from our young guys and that’s great for the organization.”
Since Barzal first touched the ice this season, he’s proven to be a reliable offensive player on a nightly basis. Scoring eight goals and tallying 18 points within the past 21 games, the 23-year-old is arguably one of the Isles’ best players. While Barzal consistently performs, Trotz has also starting to experiment with Noah Dobson, Ilya Sorokin and Oliver Wahlstrom in the lineups.
And as of late, all three are beginning to really find their groove with the Islanders reaping all the benefits. That’s not just in the standings for those asking.
Notching eight points — seven assists and one goal this season — 21-year-old Noah Dobson has been a burgeoning presence for the Islanders defense. Since losing Toews to the Colorado Avalanche, Dobson gained the confidence to be a swift two-way defenseman. With the pressure he gives on both the offensive and defensive zones, Dobson has been an excellent complementary piece to the top d-pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
This defensive play from Noah Dobson in the final seconds to prevent a scoring chance pic.twitter.com/Cml4clGzhk
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 28, 2021
Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins marked the second consecutive shutout in Islanders history, flawlessly executed by the rookie goaltender Sorokin. He earned his first-career NHL win over the Buffalo Sabres with a 20-save performance in a 3-0 shutout only 12 days prior. Sorokin’s win over Pittsburgh additionally made him the eighth goaltender in NHL history to record back-to-back shutouts in his first two career wins.
“Every time he plays, he looks more and more comfortable, which is great,” Trotz noted after the victory.
After waiting until late January to step foot onto the ice this season, 20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom is exponentially improving with every game. Shortly after beating out Kieffer Bellows on the Islanders’ third line, it took Wahlstrom one game to tally his first career NHL goal. Although he had an 11-game slump until his next goal, the winger finally found the back of the net in an impressive shot over the Boston Bruins’ goalie Tukka Rask and is currently riding on a four-game point streak.
Wahlstrom has added a surplus of energy to the Islanders’ power play that is unmatched from the past few years.
Complementing the fierceness of Barzal on the first unit, Wahlstrom is dominating in the second power play unit with a strict shooting mentality. During Sunday’s 2-0 shutout over the Penguins, Wahlstrom picked up a goal and an assist both on the power play.
As the average age for the Islanders decreases, their chances of winning and potential can only improve.
The proof has been what the team has seen from their infusion of youth.
Follow Dani on Twitter at @daniraemohr