Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at the New York Islanders.
Putting together the Isles’ forward corps was difficult, though the first line was pretty easy. That Lee-Barzal-Wahlstrom unit will be incredibly dangerous in five years, maybe one of the best in the league. After that, things get murky. New York has several veterans on long-term contracts who will still be useful, but will also need to make room for youngsters on the rise. That’s how Bailey lands on the third line, even though it doesn’t seem like an ideal place right now. While Dal Colle gets the nod here, he’ll have to fight a couple other prospects who have yet to make the full-time leap to the NHL: Kieffer Bellows and Josh Ho-Sang. All three are wild cards and if they don’t prove themselves in the next year or two, it wouldn’t be surprising to find them in another organization eventually.
New York’s defense of the future is a much nicer problem for the Islanders, who have a lot of talent scheduled to come through in the next five years. Dobson is the gem here and we could see him as early as this season, even though he has junior eligibility remaining in the Quebec League. Toews has been a pleasant surprise while Pulock has found his place already. Wilde is a high-risk/high-reward guy who would pair nicely with the more steady Salo. But there’s also Sebastian Aho to consider, not to mention Samuel Bolduc and Ben Mirageas. Expect a lot of internal competition on the blueline in the coming years.
Goaltending was a strength for the Islanders last season and they’re obviously hoping new veteran Semyon Varlamov can keep things going this year. But Varlamov is only signed until the summer of 2023 and given his age and injury history, that will probably be enough. New York has some very exciting prospects coming up, the most elite being Sorokin. His KHL contract expires at the end of April, so the beginning of his North American pro career is near. In five years, he should be well established in the Islanders crease. Skarek is another youngster with promise and Linus Soderstrom is another option, though injuries have derailed his development lately.
Overall, the Islanders should be very competitive in the future, especially if coach Barry Trotz maintains his magic with the team. New York will have high-end talent up front and a lot of different skill sets on the back end, plus enough internal competition at all positions to make sure nobody gets complacent. If Sorokin can become an elite NHL netminder, this team will be very difficult to play against. A lot of prospects need to prove themselves in the next five years, but there is plenty of breadth in the system, not to mention practical sure-things such as Dobson and Wahlstrom.
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