NHL Pre-season Predictions: Metropolitan Division – No. 5 New York Islanders

THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Fifth in Metropolitan Division.

2013: 24-17-7. Eighth in East.

KEY DEPARTURES: Mark Streit, Nino Niederreiter, Keith Aucoin.

KEY ADDITIONS: Peter Regin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck.

THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: John Tavares (91), Matt Moulson (70), Kyle Okposo (53)

PROS: The John Tavares-Matt Moulson combination is one of the best in the league. The two combined for 43 of the team’s 135 goals (32 percent) and 17 of their 31 power play goals (55 percent). No matter who you put on a line with them, that player will score. Brad Boyes posted 35 points in 48 games with them last season and P-A Parenteau logged 67 in 80 games the year before. The Islanders defense isn’t exactly filled with household names, but the shutdown pair of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic (recently signed to a cap-friendly seven-year extension) is sturdy. Though overall secondary scoring needs improvement, Michael Grabner continues to be a revelation since he was acquired through waivers from the Florida Panthers. And though neither Ryan Strome nor Griffin Reinhart has played an NHL game yet, if either recent first-rounder can find a place on this year’s team, it’ll be another step forward for the rising Isles.
On paper, losing captain Mark Streit hurts and being down one puck-moving defenseman on a blueline that lacks them will be noticeable once the season starts. Lubomir Visnovsky will be tasked with filling in for Streit and though he’ll do a serviceable job, the 37-year-old’s numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Goaltending is also an unsolved issue as the team turns back to Evgeni Nabokov for another one-year plan. At some point the position will need to be filled with a credible long-term candidate. Nabokov won’t lose the Islanders a playoff spot, but he also won’t lift them into one if things get rough this season. Special teams could be a hindrance, as the penalty kill ranked 21st last season. The power play did rank 11th, but no one besides Tavares, Moulson or Streit had more than two man-advantage goals and there isn’t a reliable, productive candidate to fill in for Streit at the point. Secondary scoring needs to pick it up before this team threatens the regional rival Rangers, Penguins, Capitals and Flyers over the long term. Grabner has filled his role nicely, but Josh Bailey needs to find himself and Kyle Okposo needs to play more like he did in the first round against the Penguins last season and less like he did over the previous 48 games.

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X-FACTOR: Whether Okposo continues on the second line or moves up alongside Tavares and Moulson, this is going to be a defining season for him. He hasn’t been the exact player the Islanders were hoping he’d be yet, but he’s shown signs – especially last post-season. An explosion from him would go a long way to rounding out the Islanders offense some more.

PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: At some point in the season, Charles Wang follows through on his old word and signs Hakuho Sho to play in net.