With the Islanders now all but out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference following their recent losing streak, we at Islanders Point Blank thought it would be pertinent to take a look forward at some of what could become of this team in the near future. New York certainly has a lot of issues and decisions to make over the next few months prior to the 2018 NHL Draft.
While we have discussed the coaching and front office ad nauseam (and might be in the future anyway), it would be best suited if some other aspects were analyzed.
Which young player (outside of Mathew Barzal) will have the biggest impact on this team moving forward?
Andrew Battifarano: Off the top of my head, I would want to say Josh Ho-Sang. And why not? He has all of the skill, speed and hands to be a successful playmaker and possession driver in the offensive zone. He has shown that potential in brief flashes last year and earlier this year. But there are too many flaws right now for him to truly be great. With this current group out of contention, the Islanders should throw him back into the lineup and see what he can do; let him prove his worth. That said, I don't see that happening with the current coaching regime.
So here are two answers - one player on the team and one that should be in the future. The former is Anthony Beauvillier. He has a lot of potential, and he and Barzal have a real chemistry together on the second line. As he continues to progress, Beauvillier could really become a more vital option.
As for who isn't on the current team, there's prospect Kieffer Bellows. He had an impressive tournament at the World Junior Championship, scoring nine goals in seven games. In the WHL, he's accumulated 69 points in 52 games this season. He has an NHL shot, and that plays anywhere.
Andy Graziano: I don't think the coaching staff has anything to do with Ho-Sang's absence on the current roster. That is all on Ho-Sang himself. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future, but he will have to do a lot of self-reflecting this summer.
Moving forward, excluding Barzal, Sebastian Aho is going to pay huge dividends. The Islanders are, of course, hurting on the blue line, Johnny Boychuk is not getting any younger, and they stand to lose Calvin de Haan, Dennis Seidenberg and possibly even Thomas Hickey this summer. As they've showed game after game this season, New York needs some of these youngsters to grow up, and grow up fast. Aho is a smooth skating, transitional defenseman that New York needs to complement Nick Leddy. It's a wonder why he hasn't been in the lineup. Now that is on the coaching staff.
Who plays goal next season?
AG: As if problems on defense weren't enough, New York now have issues in the crease. It's been a disaster this year for Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss in front of the "patchwork six," as I like to call them. They have a league-worst goals against average and a horrific save percentage that would make Michael Myers blush. Granted, that falls on the amount of high-quality chances they have faced, but when the Islanders needed a big save, they never seemed to get one this season.
Halak will be a free agent and it's very hard to see him returning. Greiss, after two capable seasons, regressed massively this year, and who knows if putting him back into a starters role of 50-55 starts will get him on the right track? Don't forget, when Halak was banished to the AHL last season, Greiss didn't exactly tear it up, either.
Ilya Sorokin is millions of miles away (figuratively), so is the Islanders' best hope that Christopher Gibson turns into the next Patrick Roy? Or is it finally time to give 6-foot-4 Linus Soderstrom a real chance? Either way, seems like another roll of the dice for 2018-19.
AB: I'm in the same camp as Andy. This defense has been nothing short of terrible, and surely most seasoned vets would have trouble with the patchwork group in front.
That said, Greiss has really not played well for the most part since the last playoff run. While Halak definitely hasn't made key saves, it's important not to discount the fact he has a .917 save percentage at even strength. He's been absolutely torched on the penalty kill, though.
With Halak becoming a UFA this offseason, it's really a big question mark in between the pipes. Crazier things have happened (especially with this franchise). I envision Gibson more as a backup than a starter.
As for who gets a majority of the ice time, maybe it is time to give the shot to Soderstrom, at least in camp.
The free agent market for goaltending this offseason is relatively weak, so a trade at the draft (with those picks they've accumulated) might make sense to fill the void.