This season, I decided to reach out to a number of hockey writers who are passionate and knowledgeable about their favorite hockey team. There are some biases involved sure, but getting the inside information is most important. In this edition, I chatted with Kevin Schultz from Islanders Point Blank for our 2013 New York Islanders Team Preview.
No one should have been surprised by John Tavares’ point production last season, but his 28 goals were just 3 short of his career high in the shortened campaign. It was also the first time Tavares had more goals than assists at the highest level. Tavares is going to be a top draft pick in Fantasy Leagues, but can he score at the pace he did in 2013, or should we expect fewer goals per game and more assists?
It’s tough to say if we should specifically expect more goals or assists out of Tavares; the one sure thing is that you can expect more points.
Tavares had been seen more as a pass-first setup guy than a true sniper throughout the first few years of his career and he took that to heart, going back to the drawing board and working on his shot last off-season and, I think, making a more conscious decision to shoot first. His shooting percentage was way up last season which certainly has an impact on the goal totals, up 5% from his previous high mark. Some of that is certainly luck and some is probably that improved skill, but it’s hard to say how much of either. Nonetheless, I would expect him to at the very least be more balanced between goals and assists going forward, rather than the assist machine he was in the past.
Either way, this is a player that has improved by leaps and bounds every single year and is only 22. I would expect him to put up more than a point per game this season, something he has yet to accomplish.
The Islanders are a young team, which has been built through the draft and finally got back to the post season in 2013. What is in store this season for former first rounders Kyle Okposo and Joshua Bailey? Both have shown glimpses of stardom, both in fake and real hockey, but can either of them take their game to the next level this season?
This is the big question for the Islanders. We know Moulson and Tavares are going to do their thing (9th best combo in the league last year). The defense and goaltending situation is relatively unchanged, as I think a lot of outsiders will overstate the loss of Mark Streit (aside from the power play, not a huge loss). That’s not to say the blueline and crease are exceptional, just that they’re a known commodity.
Bailey and Okposo are two big question marks on this team.
Bailey has played much better since being moved to the wing, and the team bought into that with a new five-year deal over the summer. He needs to continue to play well — and play better, really he only had .5 ppg last year — to be effective as an offensive threat in the NHL.
As for Okposo, the question is his effort level. He was a bat out of hell during the stretch run and playoffs last season but he started the season in a massive slump and was a totally different player. Two questions: 1) Can he keep up that intensity over a full season? Probably not. And, 2), can he at least pace himself as well as get off to a good start? The Islanders need him to at least do the latter.
Brad Boyes hasn’t been resigned, or signed at all for that matter, which leaves a huge hole in the Islanders top 6. Who is set to fill the void? Ryan Strome is another promising former first rounder, but the Islanders also brought in undersized Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Does Bouchard project to replace Boyes with the man advantage and on the top line, or is Strome ready?
That void, at least while we’re pre-camp, looks like it will be filled by Pierre-Marc Bouchard who was signed over the summer. Strome should get a long look next week and probably deserves a shot, but my hunch is the team will take it slow with him and keep him out of the spotlight. Look for Strome to be a mid-season call up.
Isle’s Captain Mark Streit is in Philly now, so who replaces his production from the Blue Line? Lubomir Visnovsky has put together some solid seasons, but isn’t getting any younger. Travis Harmonic and Andrew MacDonald don’t boast high-end offensive upside, but Matt Donovan might. Who is going to get the Power Play minutes with Streit gone?
The power play is going to be Lubo’s now. It’ll be interesting to see if the team goes back to the four-forwards, one defender setup they used for the past few years but abandoned last season. There was a little clashing of style between Streit, who likes to take his time to setup and look for the great pass, and Lubo who likes to crank slapshots.
The Islanders won’t miss Streit at even strength, but they’ll miss him on the power play. We’ll see if anyone steps up. Donovan is the likely candidate to grab Streit’s roster spot, but I don’t know that they’ll put him into the power play unit just yet. Thomas Hickey is great at pushing the play up ice and is Lubo’s d-partner. Maybe he gets the nod initially.
Evgeni Nabokov is the man between the pipes, but who is his backup? How many games will Nabokov play this season and can Fantasy Owners expect another solid fake season from the reliable veteran?
Kevin Poulin is the defacto backup, as prospect Anders Nilsson is coming off an injury-riddled season. Nabokov is getting up there and you would think that they would limit him to 50 games or so, but I don’t know if that’ll be the case. They rode him for 41 of 48 starts last year, after every one with an opinion said his games would have to be limited in the short season.
I’d say that Poulin will get more ice time this year due to Nabokov’s age, but Poulin hasn’t show much in the (few) chances that he’s gotten. I’d like to think Nabokov won’t get 60-70 starts, but I don’t think the team believes in Poulin and I think Nabby can, maybe, still handle the load.
That said, I wouldn’t be betting on either goaltender to get you anywhere in a fantasy league. The Islanders played a lot of back and forth 5-4, 6-5 kind of games last season and Nabokov’s save percentage was .910, and that was only after things got turned around for them and during a red-hot March/April. He was hovering around .900 for the first two months.
Sleeper – Pierre-Marc Bouchard: Bouchard could surprise if he stays healthy. If he’s on that right wing spot with Tavares and Moulson he’ll get a bunch of points, and he’s a better option than Brad Boyes, who occupied that spot most of last season. Although if the team goes back to the playoff lineup, it could be Okposo in that spot. I’d bet on Bouchard having better than expected numbers, though.
Deep Sleeper and Top Rookie – Ryan Strome: If you are in a league with a deep bench or in a keeper league, take a flyer on Ryan Strome. There’s a good chance he won’t be on the team to start the season, but he could pay dividends down the road.
Bust – The Goalies: Their statistics won’t be helping your team.
Fantasy MVP – John Tavares: Well, it’s John Tavares, isn’t it?
Do you have questions you’d like to see answered about the New York Islanders? Ask away in the comments below to make this 2013 New York Islanders Team Preview even more complete.