The New York Islanders were one of the oldest teams entering the 2021-22 NHL season. There were a lot of expectations for the Islanders this season as they were coming off back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals. In both instances, losing to the eventual Stanely Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. However, there was a belief in the room and amongst the coaching staff and management that this team could get back there again and ultimately win a Stanley Cup. But in order for them the New York Islanders to get there they need to ride the youth movement instead of holding onto the past.
The New York Islanders are starting to climb out of the basement in the Metro Division. And as they gain just a little bit of momentum they have another break in the action due to COVID-19 going around the league. A big reason why has been the injection of youth into the lineup. There is more energy and a more lively forecheck to their game. This was definitely missing earlier in the season when the Islanders were struggling. The difference is night and day.
On the backend especially with Noah Dobson, who continues to raise his level of play. Not to mention the addition of Robin Salo as well has helped the Islanders tremendously. Though the season did not start of the greatness, Dobson has picked up his game throughout the month of December. In his past 11 games, Dobson has registered five goals (including the winner in overtime to beat Edmonton on New Year’s Day), five assists, four of which came on the power play.
But it is not just on the backend where the Islanders are seeing the influx of youth it is offensively as well. Entering the season, many people wondered if Barry Trotz’s system could generate the offence it needed to in order to go back to the playoffs and make a run. If the team was healthy on paper it sure looked like it. However, once the puck dropped, it was a different story.
Players like Kyle Palmieri, who signed a four-year extension worth $5 million a season have not produced. Palmieri has just one goal in 25 games this season with the Islanders. Granted he was not productive in the regular season last year for the Islanders either, however, he did explode in the playoffs. But the team has to get there first. Even a player like Anthony Beauvillier, who is only 23 years old, has not lived up to his three-year contract extension. Beauvillier only has five goals in 25 games this season.
Head coach Barry Trotz was relying on Beauvillier, who was part of that Killer B’s line during the playoffs that was so successful. Even veteran Zach Parise has not done much this year, but he is on a one-year deal and that was a depth move. So when veteran players were out of the lineup for various reasons, the Islanders were able to insert Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows into the lineup to play alongside the more skilled forwards like Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.
These moves have paid two-fold for the Islanders. Wahlstrom looks like he belongs in the NHL. He was having a good season and was playing well in the playoffs for the Islanders before he got hurt. This season Wahlstrom has recorded 15 points(eight goals and seven assists) in 26 games for the Islanders. He is second in the team scoring behind Barzal. Bellows has seven points in his last seven games (three goals and four assists).
Both Bellows and Wahlstrom have seen time on the top line and have shown they have belonged there. In order for the Islanders to be successful, they have to trust in the core of this team which is relatively young. The team has already made the switch between the pipes from Semyon Varlamov to Ilya Sorokin (26). Now the Islanders must allow the youth movement the core consisting of Beauvillier (24), Barzal (24), Wahlstrom (21), and Bellow (23) to flourish. Not to mention guys like Jean-Gabriel Pageau (29), who has been a good third-line centre, the not-so-old Brock Nelson (30), and captain Anders Lee (30). That is a good nucleus.
Then there is the defence that has the best shutdown pair in the league in Adam Pelech (27) and Ryan Pulock (27) to go along with Scott Mayfield (29), Dobson (21), and Salo (23). And when healthy this is a very good defence as they decided to go with youth over aging veterans.
The New York Islanders have a youth movement happening on their team, but Barry Trotz has to trust it enough or else it will not succeed. Granted in his offence you earn your playing time, and if he sees you are not playing well, he will bench you, but the New York Islanders have to stick with the youth movement as it is the only way for them to get back to the playoffs this season.
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