5 New York Islanders Players That Must Step Up During 2013-14 Season
5 New York Islanders Who Need To Step Up
A season ago, the New York Islanders made a statement around the NHL when they made the playoffs for the first time in six years. It was a step in the right direction for the club, showing their fan base and the rest of the league that they are going to be a team on the rise. General Manager Garth Snow and Head Coach Jack Capuano have a team assembled that looks to get back to the playoffs again this year. Some people say that because of the lockout shortened season, the Islanders got lucky to get into the playoffs. With a new, full 82-game season on the horizon, the Islanders have some work to do.
The team improved in certain areas last year from seasons past. The offense stepped up, finishing 7th in the league in goals per game average. The power play was also better, finishing 11th in the league. The problems came in defense and penalty killing, both around 21st in the league. There could be a few explanations for that. Goaltending is one area the Islanders were okay in but could be better. Evgeni Nabokov did alright a year ago, but the goalies playing behind him weren’t as good as they could or should be. The defense as a whole looked weak as well. The departure of Mark Streit over the summer is going to leave a hole on the blue line for the team that is going to need to be filled.
With all that being said, there have been changes made to the team. Streit is gone. So too is Brad Boyes and Keith Aucoin. Some new faces have been brought in to replace those lost. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin were brought in via free agency, while Cal Clutterbuck was brought in via trade. With all the new faces in the lineup and some of talent taken out of the lineup, there are going to be holes that need to be filled. The young core is still intact with this team, which is key for the club moving forward. There is still work to be done this season. If the Islanders are going to make a run to get back into the playoffs this season, here are five guys that are going to have to step their game up for the Blue and Orange.
5. Kevin Poulin
Goaltending is going to be a big key for the Islanders this season. Evgeni Nabokov is going to be the team’s No. 1 goalie, but it’s a bit of a question mark. What I mean is he’s 38 years old, and there’s no guarantee he’s going to have as good a year as he did a season ago. Nabokov can’t play almost 90 percent of the games again this year; it just isn’t possible if the Islanders want to make the playoffs. So Kevin Poulin is going to have to step his play up. I still feel Poulin is going to get the backup job in the battle between him or Andres Nilsson. Whoever gets the job is going to have to play a big role on the team. Poulin needs to stabilize the backup goalie spot so that the coaching staff can feel confident giving Nabokov more rest during the course of the season. If the Islanders don’t have a stable, solid, backup netminder, then the chances of going back to the playoffs are slim.
4. Pierre-Marc Bouchard
When the Islanders signed Bouchard, they were looking for somebody to try and replace Brad Boyes on the top line. In fact, the Islanders haven’t really been able to find anybody to fit the bill and play on that line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Bouchard has proven that he can score and produce in the past. Bouchard had 13 goals and a career-best 50 assists in 2007-08, but his numbers have declined in each of the next few seasons, partly due to injuries (he missed all but one game four years ago). A return to past form could elevate the Isles' top line to elite status. If Bouchard can step up and find his game again, then the Islanders have that one top forward they have been searching for.
3. Lubomir Visnovsky
Visnovsky’s time with the Islanders didn’t get off to all that great of a start, as he failed to report to camp and didn’t get into the lineup right away. Once he did get into the lineup, Visnovsky proved to be invaluable to the hockey club. He scored three goals and chipped in 11 assists in his 35 games, which are respectable numbers. But with the loss of Mark Streit during the offseason, somebody really needs to step up and fill the void he left on the blue line. Right now, Visnovsky is the perfect fit to take that role on and fill that void. Visnovsky is going to have to take on some of the big minutes and quarterback the power play, something he should have no problem handling.
2. Josh Bailey
Bailey has a lot to live up to this season. He just got the new contract extension over the offseason, so there is a little bit more pressure on him than in years past. Bailey became a major factor down the stretch for this team a year ago, throwing in six goals and four assists down the stretch. His play at the end of the year was a big factor in that new extension. He has got to live up to it for two reasons. First is the fact that he is a former first round pick and still has to prove he can live up to that. Second, he had the big push in April last year and has to build off of that this season. Bailey has the talent to be a big-time player in this league. Now is the time for him to show that off.
1. Kyle Okposo
Okposo has been an enigma since being drafted 7th overall in 2006. He has the size and skill to dominate at this level, but he's only scored more than 20 goals once. That was the career-high of 24 he scored two seasons ago. Last year looked like another lost season when Okposo scored four goals and had 20 assists in 48 games, but he came alive in the playoffs with three goals and an assist in six contests. The playoff series showed that the fire and desire is there to complement the talent level. He needs to be able to bring all of that out of him, and right now is a great time to start. The Islanders are hoping he'll build on a strong postseason.