In 2022-23, the New York Islanders barely qualified for the playoffs with a record of 42-31-9.
This year, their chances of returning to the postseason are slim, especially after much of the Eastern Conference has improved this summer.
If the Islanders plan to return to the playoffs, a few things need to happen this season.
Horvat and Barzal Prove To Be a Lethal Combo:
Following a midseason trade that brought Horvat to New York, he and Barzal combined for five goals and 12 points in their first six games together. However, their chemistry was short-lived, as Barzal went down with a lower-body injury in mid-February that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season.
In Barzal’s absence, Horvat struggled down the stretch of the year and put up underwhelming numbers compared to what expectations were of him at the time of the trade.
Barzal did return in time for the playoffs, but he clearly wasn’t back at full strength, resulting in a disappointing series against the Carolina Hurricanes for both he and Horvat.
The duo will likely be paired on the top line again this year and will be expected to carry the load offensively. That shouldn’t be a problem if both can stay healthy. But will it be enough after the Islanders did little this offseason to add scoring to their lineup?
Oliver Wahlstrom Breaks Through:
While Horvat and Barzal are expected to do most of the scoring, they can’t do it alone. Others in the lineup will have to step up, and someone to watch will be Oliver Wahlstrom.
The 23-year-old showed signs that he was ready to break out early last year while playing meaningful minutes on the Islanders’ top line. However, as it has many times before, Wahlstrom’s production was inconsistent. Eventually, he suffered a lower-body injury in late December and had to sit out the rest of the year.
As he enters his fifth season in the NHL in 2023-24, Wahlstrom will have plenty to prove and should be motivated after only receiving a one-year qualifying offer from the Islanders this summer. He likely would’ve received a better deal had he stayed healthy, but now he needs to earn it by having a career year this season.
Noah Dobson Takes Next Step:
Another young Islander with a lot to prove is defenseman Noah Dobson.
While he didn’t necessarily have a bad performance last season, Dobson failed to meet expectations after he had an excellent campaign the year prior. However, if there is one cause for concern, it’s over Dobson’s ability to run a power play.
The biggest weakness the Islanders had a year ago was their absolutely abysmal percentage on the man advantage, which can largely be attributed to their inability to move the puck into the offensive zone cleanly. As the quarterback of the top unit and the lone player on the point, that responsibility falls largely on Dobson.
If the Islanders are going to see any improvement on the power play, they’ll need Dobson to show that he’s the offensive-defenseman they say he is.
If they’re right, they’ll find themselves back in the playoffs once again.