The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the New York Islanders:
2022-23 Fantasy Outlook: New York Islanders
Last season: 37-35-10, 5th Metro, 20th overall. GF: 23rd, GA: 7th, PP: 12th, PK: 4th.
That schedule… oof. The Islanders won just five games – three of them against lottery-bound teams – on their opening 13-game road trip while waiting for UBS Arena to be completed, and that was the first sign the 2021-22 season would be trouble. They would lose their first four home games, finish 20-16-5 at home, and then lose six of their final eight games with tough matchups against the Leafs, Rangers, Panthers, Hurricanes, Capitals and Lightning to shut the door on their slim playoff hopes.
Thanks to the awful schedule, and a winter stretch that saw them play only two games in 23 days due to COVID, the Isles just never really seemed to be in sync. They kept the trademarks of a Barry Trotz squad by being tough to score against, especially with Ilya Sorokin emerging as a top-five goalie, but their 5-on-5 offense ranked 20th in goals for. Scoring was never their biggest strength, but they had only two players score at least 20 goals (Brock Nelson, Anders Lee), and no one who scored over 60 points or registered over 200 shots. Supposed franchise center Matt Barzal had arguably his worst season yet, unable to take another leap into his development and enters a crucial year as an impeding RFA.
They were arguably the most disappointing team in the league and, as often is the case, someone had to take the fall. It ended up being Trotz, who ends his four-year stint on Long Island with a .587 P%, even though there’s legitimate criticism to be levied at the roster Lou Lamoriello had constructed. The Isles also struck out in free agency, failing to land any of the big names they had been linked to, and will be counting on a bounce-back season under new coach Lane Lambert to deliver the same, if not better, results as Trotz’s best seasons.
Best fantasy option: Noah Dobson, D
Barzal is projected to lead the Isles in scoring but it’s time we reconsidered the speedy playmaker as a franchise-level player because, frankly, his production and trajectory says otherwise. Entering his sixth NHL season, he has shown marginal, if any, improvement on offense and remains a liability in the faceoff dot. His speed is an asset and, asides from last season, his possession numbers are positive, but as a fantasy option, the upside just seems to be capped at 70 points and offers little else in banger or roto leagues. Betting on Lambert to turn him loose, which would somehow turn him back into a point-per-game player doesn’t seem like a great bet in the early or middle rounds.
That leaves Dobson, who broke out with 51 points and has emerged as the answer to the Isles’ long-time headache of finding an elite puck-moving power-play quarterback. He led all Isles defensemen in TOI/GP, knocking off Ryan Pulock, who held that honour for three seasons, and in some cases quarterbacked the power play for the full two minutes. He’s become their best option since Mark Streit and Tom Poti, and a big reason why their power play efficiency performed far better relative to the competition than their even-strength offense. He ranked 29th among defensemen with at least 100 minutes on the power play averaging 99.39 shot attempts per 60 minutes, according to naturalstattrick.com, which isn’t far off from John Carlson (101.04), who is getting drafted nearly 60 spots ahead of Dobson by Yahoo’s ADP. It remains to be seen if Lambert will open up the ice a little more, but under Trotz, Dobson was also a shot-blocking machine, ranking first on the team and 13th in the league with 154 blocks, and also 28th in the league in blocks per 60 minutes. Another productive season would cement Dobson as a top-20 defenseman in banger leagues.
Hidden gem: Oliver Wahlstrom, RW
It’s hard to find a gem when so many of their forwards have a history of underperforming. Some of them have had nice seasons, but this team still lacks a bona fide offensive player – see above re: Barzal – and their track record in developing prospects hasn’t been very good. There may be a case for Anthony Beauvillier, but the speedy winger is entering his seventh NHL season and has yet to score more than 21 goals, not to mention for a supposed goal scorer his career 11.9 S% is very average. A bounce back from a career-low 7.8 S% to his career average would’ve just given him 18 goals in 75 games because he’s not a high-volume shooter and at this point he has given no indications that he’s ready to take the leap in his play.
That leaves Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018 (right before Dobson) who is entering his third NHL season and three years younger than Beauvillier. His ice time was limited to 12:04 per game last season but he projects to be a better volume shooter and also registered 101 hits last season for added banger-league value. Wahlstrom led the 2017-18 U-18 NTDP in scoring with 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games, and he has yet to translate that goal-scoring talent to the pros, but at the very least, he seems to be a more consistent player than Beauvillier with higher potential. The drawback is Wahlstrom’s ice time, but it’s tough to say how the Isles’ lines and scoring ability will manifest with a new coach behind the bench.
There’s no doubt Sorokin is a very talented goalie. However, does he belong in the same conversation as Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin or is he in the tier below? According to naturalstattrick.com, Sorokin was tops in the league in both 5v5 GSAA/60 (0.64) and save percentage (.936), edging out Shesterkin in both categories and ranking well ahead of Vasilevskiy. (There is also little doubt he should be the starter and not stuck in a timeshare with Semyon Varlamov). The problem is that the Isles are not as good as the Lightning or the Rangers, which really hurts Sorokin’s fantasy value. If the Isles’ offense improves under Lambert without losing sight of their defensive identity, Sorokin has a good chance to be a borderline top-five fantasy goalie. He’s a dicey pick in the early rounds, but in leagues where quality goaltenders are scarce or where goalie stats are emphasized, he could be an excellent under-the-radar choice. The quality starts will be nice but the wins may be hard to come by because he just doesn’t get much goal support.
Can the Isles improve without making any significant additions other than trading for Alexander Romanov? Can Lambert squeeze more out of this current roster in his first stint as a head coach in the NHL? At their best, the Isles are a playoff team whose style might be more conducive to success than a run ‘n gun offensive team, but can they even get there? A ton of question marks head into the season, and despite some quality depth at every position, the Isles really present two excellent fantasy options: Dobson and Sorokin. Barzal is a reach in the early rounds, otherwise it’s a smattering of 40-50-point players. Only four of them – Barzal, Dobson, Lee and Brock Nelson – are projected to score over 50 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide. They’re players to fill out the rest of your fantasy roster but not ones to build your team around.