The New York Islanders were among the league’s biggest surprises in 2013, clinching a playoff spot for the first time in nearly a decade. That set expectations up higher for the for the upcoming season, for the first time in quite some time. But is this team strong enough to improve, or will we see a regression in 2013-14?
The steps that this organization has taken over the last few years likely indicates the former. But with a team that overachieves sooner than expected, we could also see them take a step back. Still, it’s hard to overlook the talent that is in place, and the youngsters they have coming up through the ranks moving forward.
The Isles still have one of the top players in the league in the middle of their lineup, in John Tavares. He’s a superstar and will likely take over as the captain heading into the next year. Between him, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, and Michael Grabner, there is a solid core of offensive weapons. That’s a good start.
That doesn’t include the solid role players they’ve added up front, in Pierre Marc-Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck, as well as the ones already in place. Add those two to a mix that already includes Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey, and could soon include Ryan Strome, and things look promising.
But the forward lines aren’t what will hold this team back from improving. We know they’re impressive up front. Their blue line, however, just lost their top defenseman, with Mark Streit being traded. There are still some solid players here as well, though, between Lubomir Visnovsky and Travis Hamonic, the latter of which will see an increased role. Brian Strait and Andrew McDonald are solid role players on the back end as well. And there are more coming, including Griffin Reinhart.
So the forward lines are looking good, and the blue line has some solid pieces in place, and should continue to improve as some of their top prospects improve. If that’s the case, what exactly will hold this team back from improving? The answer to that is relatively simple: it’s in the goaltending.
Evgeni Nabokov isn’t a playoff goaltender, plain and simple. And he’s another year older. This team may not be able to overcome Nabokov as a full time netminder again, with Anders Nilsson looking like he’s still at least a year away. Still, it’s hard not to like the direction this team is headed.
The Islanders will be better in 2013. They have that playoff experience, always good for a young team, and have made some improvements around the roster, though none of any sort of significant nature. This is a club with a bright future, and we should continue to see that moving forward.