Even in a shortened season, there are some teams out there who are off to hot starts that probably won’t be around when the postseason actually begins. We like to call them “pretenders”. It remains to be seen who the pretenders actually are, but one would have to imagine the New York Islanders certainly are one, right?
Now the Islanders are sitting at .500 right now. That’s not exactly anything to write home about, but they have one of the league’s best groups of young talent. If they can play some defense and get some decent goaltending, they are a team that could make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Quietly, the Islanders are led by one of the best young centers in the league in John Tavares. His status as a no. 1 overall pick is somewhat forgotten, mostly due to where he plays. But he has turned into an elite player. Combine him with some of the offensive talent on this team, including Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, as well as Kyle Okposo (who may finally be coming along) and you have an offensive group that is very fun to watch.
The defense has improved. Mark Streit is playing for a new contract, Travis Hamonic is a good young defenseman, Brian Strait has been a nice addition, and should Lubomir Visnovsky ever arrive, he should be a solid part of this blue line as well. Not to mention all of the defensive talent in their farm system.
The biggest question for the Isles remains between the pipes. Evgeni Nabokov has been very solid this season, but should he struggle, who knows whether or not Rick DiPietro can stay healthy enough to assume the starting job for this club.
Are the Islanders a Stanley Cup contender this year? Absolutely not. Are they a playoff contender? Sure, especially in a shortened season. They have a nice core group of players. They’ve shown this season that they’re maturing. Just look at their wins, including a big one earlier this week over the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a team that could very well be a force in the Eastern Conference very soon.