Islanders Season Outlook 2009-2010

Better late than never right? Enjoy the season preview.

Every member of Islanders Country must have let out a collective exhale on June 29, 2009. After playing his number one overall draft pick close to the vest (unlike the Detroit Lions’ approach to drafting Matthew Stafford), Islander’s backup goalie-turned-GM Garth Snow stepped to the podium. Within seconds, John Tavares was the Islanders’ first overall pick since Rick DiPietro in 2000. After one of the richest draft classes in recent NHL history (the Islanders would not have made a mistake drafting powerful defenseman Victor Hedman (no. 2 overall, Lightning) or Matt Duchene (no. 3 overall, Avalanche). But, the majority of Islanders fans wanted Tavares, for his projected 50+ goal talent. (Watch this and believe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-zmRP0e3kE&feature=player_embedded) Sure, some thought Hedman, who projects to be a Chris Pronger-type defenseman, would be a better fit and bring back memories of venerated Isles hall of famer and former captain Denis Potvin. But, the majority, and the Isles’ brass, saw a Mike Bossy in John Tavares.

Tavares is surely the new marquee player on the island, joining budding star (and former first round pick) Kyle Okposo, fantastic free agent signing D-man Mark Streit, and (if ever healthy) the 15-year contracted franchise goalie, Rick DiPietro. The Islanders, finishing last in the league last year, look for this year to be another notch in coach Scott Gordon’s rebuilding belt, although the increasingly young team feels like it can compete for a playoff berth, barring the massive injuries that ravaged the team last year.

The biggest key to a potential Islanders playoff appearance this year hinges on Garth Snow’s two biggest off-season signings, goalies Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. With the addition of Roloson and Biron, when DiPietro returns healthy, the Islanders will have three number one-caliber goaltenders. After Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald (two more than capable backups, but not starters) played the majority of the games in net for the Islanders last year, Roloson, who led the Oilers to a Cup appearance, and Biron, a big-time goalie who, at times, has shined in Buffalo and Philadelphia, promise to fortify the net.

On defense, the Islanders sport a similar look to last year’s squad, with highly underrated, but oft-injured Radek Martinek and “the fantastic fourth,” Freddy Meyer (IV) returning. Another veteran who suffered a rash of injuries, Andy Sutton, and his 6’6 frame return to the blue line. Leader, veteran, and old-time-hockey-style defenseman Brendan Witt makes a return, as does 25-year-old Bruno Gervais, who has inherited a larger role with last year’s mid-season trade of Chris Campoli. Coming off a 56 point campaign, the Isles’ only all-star from last year, Mark Streit looks to be a team leader in goals, assists, and in the locker room. A healthy Streit means an above average-special teams player and a fantastic power play quarterback. Although Coach Gordon hasn’t used him much so far this season, 23-year-old Jack Hillen could be the quarterback on the second PP unit and offensively gifted d-man the Islanders hope for him to be.

Newly minted captain, veteran Doug Weight anchors the senior circuit, along with assistant captain Richard Park and a poor-man’s Sean Avery, Jon Sim. Otherwise, the Islanders’ forwards are mostly homegrown or have spent time in the Islanders minor league system. The rebuild of the Islanders takes shape with the already dynamic Tavares and Okposo flanking Weight on the first line. Last year’s first round pick, sometimes underwhelming, sometimes passing machine Josh Bailey (at only 20 years old) centers, prospectively, Blake Comeau, in and out of Gordon’s doghouse (for some reason unbeknownst to most Islanders) and Islanders’ veteran and perennial 25 goal threat and physical force Trent Hunter. When, and if, healthy, darling of the Islanders’ non-first round picks Frans Nielsen provides a reliable, young center with lots of upside. Richard Park brings grit and potentially 15-20 goals, while Jeff Tambellini, a scoring machine in the AHL, needs to prove his ability to score in the NHL. If not, this could be Tambellini’s last year on the island.

Skilled Sean Bergenheim has consistently been an enigma for the Islanders—he has the skill to score over 30 goals if he can stay out of the penalty box. Nate Thompson, a waiver claim from last year is not a great offensive force, but provides toughness, along with Tim Jackman on the fourth line. Jon Sim will also see action on the fourth line, but may see time with the likes of Tavares and Weight after a nice finish in Bridgeport after a disappointing season last year with the Islanders. Matt Moulson could be a sleeper for this year’s team. Already fostering good chemistry with Tavares, this former L.A. King is still only 25 and showed a nose for the net in the preseason. Rounding out the crew is deke specialist and trickster Rob Schremp picked up from Edmonton before the season on a waver claim. Schremp, like Tambellini has shown a flair for goal scoring in the AHL, but needs to prove himself on a higher level. Coach Gordon has said he will receive chances as a top six forward. Finally, the yo-yo man (barring injuries) between Bridgeport and the NYI is Joel “The Wrecker” Rechlicz, who only has played about two minutes per game no matter at what level. This fighter, though, has caught the eye of the coaching staff, which is high on his upside. Look for The Wrecker to pummel some opponents and perhaps have the speed and offensive upside of an Eric Godard type.

For the Islanders to be competitive, a few things have to go right. They must further adopt Gordon’s “overspeed” coaching method—one that has proven successful on the AHL circuit. They will, by the coach’s estimation, not out-skill anyone (yet) but they can outwork them. With solid defense, good goaltending split between Roloson and Biron (for now) and some offensive spark from others beside Tavares and Okposo, the Islanders may have a fighting chance to scrape out a playoff appearance.

By: Zach

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