Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one, two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
For all the right reasons, Barry Trotz was spot on with his analysis of the Islanders when he first took over.
He used the word “easy” when asking about fixing the teams’ defensive woes. And at the moment — his club, leading the league in goals against with 18 games left in the 2018-19 season — Trotz has done a masterful job solidifying a structure and getting the most out of all his defensemen.
Even with some defensive struggles recently, it’s surprisingly Adam Pelech that has stood out the most.
Pelech, recorded his fourth goal and 14th point of the season scoring in the Isles 4-1 defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday afternoon. The 24-year-old has taken his game to another level and the gains have earned him praise from Trotz and the coaching staff.
“There’s firmness in his game,” Trotz told Newsday’s Andrew Gross in late February. “I think Pelly is finding himself as a National League player on a regular basis.”
Full credit should go to the Toronto, ON native for how he battled his way through adversity this season.
Before coming on strong, Pelech was struggling to adjust to having an expanded role on defense. Dating back to January 12th, he had been a healthy scratch four times already during the season and had drawn the ire of Trotz on more than once. The frustration was evident in his demeanor on the ice. What also did Pelech no favors, he was still treading water when fellow d-man Thomas Hickey suffered a concussion in Colorado on December 17th. Hickey’s unfortunate setback was the calling for Pelech to finally show some consistency.
By the time mid-January rolled around — and Pelech scratched again after his poor performance in the Isles 4-3 win at MSG — it felt like he was looming toward being the odd man out. But that last scratch, the second half of the home-and-home with the Rangers, finally turned the light on for Pelech. His two assists — on both goals– on January 18th in Washington helped put the Islanders in first place that night.
Pelech, using those scratches as motivation, has now played in every game since that benching and earned all of his ice time. Hard to believe when just over two months prior he was only given between 13 and 15 minutes a night.
According to hockey-reference.com, Pelech’s metrics have shot up from earlier this year with his recent run. He ranks 11th on the team in CF% (Corsi For at Even Strength), meaning that he’s contributing more with his team possessing the puck. Pelech has also played with a more physical mindset all year long. Through 61 games, his 116 hits put him fifth among the team in that category.
Pelech and d-partner Ryan Pulock have made for a steady second pairing for the Islanders. The duo has been the Isles best d-men in the past few weeks and have been contributing more offensively.
Pelech played a just short of his season-high in minutes against the Flyers and his ice time keeps increasing. He’s earned Trotz’ trust meaning being thrown into bigger situations and taking more responsibility on the ice.
The Pelech the Isles are getting now is hopefully the same player that they will have for the duration of his contract.
Signed for $1.6 million dollars over the next two seasons, Pelech’s cap hit is incredibly low right now. Not even 25 yet, Pelech hasn’t even reached his ceiling most likely, even with the big improvement in his play the last 20 or so games. He’s obviously made huge strides under Trotz’ structure. Gone are the expectations of him just being a third-pairing d-man; Pelech has established himself as a quality top-four defenseman. The tough love the received the first four months of the season has also turned him into a more determined and heady presence.
For the Islanders to clinch its first postseason birth in three seasons, Pelech keeping up his consistent play is an underrated key. He looks more confident with the puck and has improved immensely with his defensive positioning and around his own net.
The struggles are in the past for Pelech.
He’s turned around his season with hard work and is keeping his nose to the grindstone. And if sticks to that mentality, the Isles will only be stronger in their lineup and even more steadfast on the back end in the playoffs.
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