Friday, September 3, 2010

NY Islanders: Realistic Predictions

What can we expect from the NY Islanders this season..Really?

As everything NY Islanders these past few years there are an awful lot of "ifs."

Lets jump right in and examine:

A) Goaltending - More specifically Rick DiPietro. We can talk about the contract and the eleven years left on it until we are blue in the face and at the end of the day it really does not matter long term.

What does matter is if Rick can return at all. Once that question is answered it is followed by one more important question - can he approach the high level we all know he is capable of?

The guy is still young but all of those surgeries on knees and hips and lets not forget the multiple concussions that will take their toll on anyone.

There is always conjecture about Rick but as we are seeing right now there is no way anyone knows including Rick himself whether he will be able to shoulder the load of rigors of an NHL season.

The one thing that remains a constant is the Islanders have Dwayne Roloson. Roloson more than proved that he is still a very capable net minder and can still play at a high level.

Assuming that DiPietro cannot play, AHL standout goaltender Nathan Lawson will likely back up Roloson.

Depth Chart -
1 - Dwayne Roloson
2 - Rick DiPietro
3 - Nathan Lawson

B) Defense. I can say with a degree of certainty that this will be the best group of defenseman the Islanders will put on the ice in many years, possibly since 1997.

Mark Streit is at the head of the class. He will shoulder the power play minutes and be the Islanders number 1 guy on defense.

He isn't alone any more.

Garth Snow pulled a rabbit out of his hat trading for James Wisniewski. He is the perfect number 2 guy behind Streit. Islander fans will love this kid once they see him in action.

Mark Eaton is a dependable veteran via free agency.

Milan Jurcina is a nice depth player and adds much needed size at the blue line at 6' 4" and 235 pounds.

The Islanders will also bring back Jack Hillen, Andrew McDonald, oft injured Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais, Dylan Reese and Dustin Kohn to round out the rest of the defense.

One thing that can be counted on this year. Whoever plays goal for the Islanders this year can expect to see less traffic in front of the net and a much more soundly defended zone in front of him.

Garth Snow and his crew have done an excellent job building the Islanders defensive unit this season and for once I am excited about the Islanders on that side of the puck.

Depth Chart -

1) Mark Streit
2) James Wisniewski
3) Mark Eaton
4) Milan Jurcina
5) Jack Hillen
6) Radek Martinek
7) Andrew McDonald
8) Bruno Gervais

C) Wingers - Here is an Islander weak spot. Traditionally this is where an awful of goals come from that a team scores and where the Islanders swill look to try and improve this season.

Kyle Okposo has got to take the bull by the horns this year and show everyone that he is ready to be a star player in the NHL. He simply cannot go large periods of time invisible like he did at points last season. Islander fans want to cheer for him and are waiting for him to show the rest of the league what we all believe about him.

He needs to add consistency to his game. In a league where 22 year old captains are winning Stanley Cups age is no longer an excuse for under achieving.

Another huge question is whether Matt Moulsen's 30 goal campaign was an apperition or the start of a late blooming career scoring goals in the NHL.

Trent Hunter will skate around hard, hit people, be dependable in his own end and score around 15 goals.

Blake Comeau has to also continue to improve and take that next step.

Rob Shremp showed flashes of brilliance last season after being exiled from Edmonton. This is one kid I can see special things from this season and could be the next breakout star If the Islanders are going to challenge for a playoff spot. At the very least he is a shootout specialist who will score more often than not.

After those guys, what else is there? Thats 5 winger positions out of 8 available spots on the Islanders opening night roster. Who will fill out the rest of the winger positions?

We have unproven talents in Jesse Joensuu and Matt Martin had cups of coffee with the Islanders who I would love to see get a long term shot with the Islanders.

Depth Players P.A. Parentau, Jon Sim, Andy Hilbert, Joel Rechlecz, and Zenon Konopka round out the group.

Make no mistake if the Islanders are to take the e next step this year and challenge for a playoff spot someone will have to step up in the winger department.

Could 2010 first round pick Nino Niederreiter make the team and contribute? How about ultra talented Russian draft pick Kirill Kabanov? Odds are they will not start the season on the club.

The Islanders are not in a position to add from the free agent pool. They are going to improve from within, or not improve at all.

Depth Chart -

1) Kyle Okposo
2) Matt Moulsen
3) Trent Hunter
4) Blake Comeau
5) Rob Schremp
6) Jon Sim
7) Jesse Joensuu
8) Andy Hilbert
9) Matt Martin
10) Zenon Konopka

D) Center - Here is another position that the Islanders are just about set at.

John Tavares was everything realisitic expectations could have hoped for. His sophmore season should give us more of a picture of the kind of player he will be.

People keep talking about Stephen Stamkos as a measuring stick for Tavares' encore season. This comparison is not fair for one reason - the talent around Stamkos dwarfs what is around Tavares.

If we have to put a number on how many goals that would label Tavares second season a success that number would be 35.

Doug Weight has resigned with the Islanders. We all know he is a very talented play maker. We also know that we simply cannot count on him playing more than 35 games.

Josh Bailey needs to improve. Yes he is only 20, but that is no longer an excuse one can use in the NHL. Bailey is entering his 3rd NHL season. 16 goals and 35 points are not totals that are going to wow anyone. If he is going to be the player Snow envisioned when he drafted him then he is going to show that this season.

Frans Neilson scored 12 goals and had 38 points last year and will also look to improve on those numbers.

Rob Schremp and Andy Hilbert will fill in at center if and when there are injuries.

Depth Chart -
1) John Tavares
2) Doug Weight
3) Josh Bailey
4) Frans Nielson
5) Rob Schremp
6) Andy Hilbert

Overall the Islanders are in a much better position this season than last and should look to improve on last seasons 79 point total.

Keys to a successful season -

1) Solid defense will get the team more wins on its own even without much improvement from the forward crew. Most importantly is the Islanders need to bring down the amount of goals allowed last season of 264. Only Edmonton (284) and Toronto (267) allowed more goals last season.

Roloson will do fine if he is shouldered with the goaltending load. The Islanders revamped defense will no doubt be a drastic improvement over last seasons and if the goals allowed total is in the 215-220 range then the Islanders should be in business to at least challenge for a playoff spot even without much improvement on the goals for side.

2) Young forwards must continue growth. Yes reliable defense is important. So is scoring goals. You may be shocked to know that the Islanders scored just as many goals as rivals NY Rangers and the NJ Devils with 222. If the Islanders can improve that total to 240 that would be a nice step in the development if the young core of forwards.

3) Special teams. The Islanders were near the bottom of the heap on power play percentage at 16%. An improvement to 18-19% is not to much to ask and is necessary for any successful NHL franchise. If goal totals on the season are to improve this is where the extra goals have to come from.

The Islanders were at the bottom of the heap in penalty killing at a horrid 76.3%, good for 29th in the NHL. That number needs to be at least 82-85% and with the Islanders revamped defense should be possible.

So many people think goal scoring is the Islanders number one problem. They would be wrong. This is why it was so important for Snow and Company to improve team defense. Increase you penalty killing efficiency to the mid 80% range and you will challenge for that playoff spot.

Post your thoughts in the comment section and voice your opinion on where the Islanders need to improve.

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