It's a good thing the coach feels good about his forward corps, as the Islanders are returning almost the same lineup up front, save for Valtteri Filppula. With the season set to begin on Friday night, NewYorkIslanders.com takes a look at the Islanders forward group to start the season. Check back Thursday for a look at the team's defense and goaltending.
Video: NYR@NYI: Barzal snaps quick shot by Georgiev
Mathew Barzal has led the Islanders in points in each of the past two seasons, recording 85 (22G, 63A) in his rookie year and 62 (18G, 44A) in his sophomore season.
He's the Islanders most dynamic player, and one of the top producers in the league. His 107 assists over the past two seasons are tied for 19th, alongside premier playmakers like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Evgeni Malkin. Barzal's 147 points (40G, 107A) are 30th in the NHL over the same span.
Much has been made of Barzal's production dip last season, but that was partially an effect of learning - and embracing - Barry Trotz's defense-first mentality. Barzal felt himself taking fewer risks, while becoming a more complete player. Plus, he said winning felt better than scoring and that he still felt that he created plenty of chances.
"I think there were a lot of things last year in the regular season that maybe swayed my numbers, or everyone's numbers in here really," Barzal said. "It was a defensive outlook, that's what we were going for, we were winning games 2-1… My rookie year it seemed like every game was 6-5, 5-4 that kind of stuff. It was fun, but it's really not the way you win. For me it's about being that complete player and keep developing my game."
Last year's playoffs and this year's preseason should put fans mind's at ease. Barzal had seven points (2G ,5A) in eight playoff games and led the Islanders with six points (1G, 5A) in four preseason games this season. He'll center the top line with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee to start the year, a combination that has looked great in preseason.
"I just want to develop as a player," Barzal said. "Obviously as any offensive player would say they want to score, get points and contribute to wins, but I don't think it really matters to anyone in this locker room, for anyone really, as long as we're winning. As long as we're in that playoff hunt. That's my goal and what I want."
It took Jordan Eberle three quarters of the season to find his offensive game, but the 29-year-old came on strong down the stretch and in the playoffs. Eberle led the Islanders in goals (4) and points (9) in the postseason, erasing any sour taste from a 37-point output regular season.
"Ebs is a really good pro. I think he's taken the next step," Trotz said. "Last year in the last quarter and in the playoffs, he got it to the next level. I haven't seen anything that would suggest he's going to revert to a level down. I think he's comfortable in that next level and he's an important piece for us."
If the preseason is any indication, Eberle is picking up where he left off, with four goals and an assist in five preseason contests. Eberle has an established chemistry with Barzal and the two should connect a lot this season.
With 102 goals over the past three seasons, Anders Lee has entrenched himself as one of the game's best goal scorers - top 13 since the start of 2016-17. It's not always pretty, but Lee's been effective, leading the team in goals in each of the past three seasons, including 28 tallies last year.
He's one of the game's best net-front players and serves as the cleanup crew on a line with Barzal and Eberle, as well as the power play.
Lee is entering his second season as the team's captain, is a leader off the ice with his charitable work and after signing a seven-year deal in the offseason, will be a mainstay for years to come.
While most Islanders saw their production dip last season, Brock Nelson turned in a career year. The center broke the 50-point plateau for the first time in 2018-19 and credited an increased role under Barry Trotz for helping him raise his game. It was Nelson (17:58 TOI/GP) who led the Isles forwards in ice time per game last year, just edging out Barzal (17:55).
After signing a six-year deal with the Islanders, Nelson returns as the team's second line center and can expect to play a role on the power play and penalty kill this season.
Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander, returns for a 12th season with the franchise. He's three games shy of 800 - the sixth most games played in team history - and can finish as high as fourth at the end of the season.
Bailey's production has jumped up a level since the start of the 2016-17 season, as he's recorded at least 56 points in each of the last three seasons and was second on the team in points last year. The 30-year-old has low-key been one of the more reliable playmakers over the past three years, as his 136 assists are tied for 25th in the NHL over that span, alongside names like Ryan Johansen and Anze Kopitar.
Bailey is slotted in on the second line alongside Nelson and Michael Dal Colle and will be counted on to provide crucial offense again this season.
Video: Michael Dal Colle makes Islanders Roster
MICHAEL DAL COLLE:
After appearing in 28 games last season, Michael Dal Colle felt that he "fit in" at the NHL levelheading into 2019-20. Barry Trotz agreed, as the 2014 first-round pick made the team out of camp for the first time.
Dal Colle's journey to becoming an NHLer wasn't without its speedbumps, but after developing his two-way game, he's poised for a top-six role to start the season alongside Nelson and Bailey, who are both happy to see Dal Colle make the leap. Dal Colle could see some power-play time as well to start the year after practicing with the Barzal unit at practice this week.
Derick Brassard was looking for a meaningful role when choosing teams this offseason and should have one this season for the Islanders as the team's third line center.
Brassard is coming off a career-low 23 points, but that can be partially attributed to playing on three teams in one year and not having an established role on any of them. With 60 and 58-point seasons on his resume, Brassard brings some offensive potential to the third line - a unit Trotz said should have more offensive creativity on it.
"It was just tough timing from that year last year and bouncing around everywhere," Brassard told NewYorkIslanders.com in early September. "When I look back, I feel like I almost didn't play last season because I moved so many times. It was impossible to get going. But I know what I can do out there. I know I can help this team. When I was talking about getting a role, I just have to go back and play my game. I think this team fits my game really well. I'm just excited to get the season started."
Brassard has looked comfortable alongside Anthony Beauvillier, who he's been paired with often through camp, as he recorded three points (2G, 1A) in three preseason games. The 31-year-old may also see time on the penalty kill this season, as he and Beauvillier practiced as a shorthanded duo this week.
"They're both fairly creative in the speed aspect and that gives us a little different element," Trotz said of Brassard and Beauvillier. "I've seen [Brassard] at his best and he's played with high-skill guys and I think he's a good two-way player. I didn't want to turn him into a complete third line where they are a checking line. They are going to be productive."
Video: PHI@NYI: Brassard hammers home Barzal's feed
Anthony Beauvillier appears to be Brassard's running mate to start the season, as the two Quebecers have spent a lot of time on the same line - and PK unit - in practice. At 22, Beauvillier is entering his fourth season in the league and has scored 21 and 18 goals in each of the past two seasons. A well-liked player in the room and hard-worker on the ice, it'll be interesting to see if playing with Brassard and Leo Komarov can help Beauvillier get to the next level offensively.
Uncle Leo. Komarov was one of the most popular Islanders in the room last season, notably forming a connection with Mathew Barzal and helping some of the Isles young players develop good pro habits. On the ice, Komarov had chemistry with the now-departed Valtteri Filppula, so he'll look to re-establish it alongside Brassard. Komarov will be counted on to kill penalties, as he averaged 1:44 SH TOI/GP last season, though his new partner is still up for grabs.
THE IDENTITY LINE:
Forget penciling, Barry Trotz had the Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck trio carved into stone heading into training camp.
"You can't take them apart, they have to go everywhere together," Trotz said before the team's preseason game in New Jersey.
The Identity Line - as he coined it - often set the tone for the Islanders, embodying the physical, workmanlike identity of the team. They reunited and it felt so good - both for the fans and players alike.
Cizikas turned in a career year with 20 goals - more than doubling his previous best. If that happens again, great, but it won't be the nightly focus for Cizikas (his words) as he's focused on continuing to forecheck and be a pesky presence on the ice.
"I'm not going to try and go out there and score every single game, I'm just going to go out and play my style and continue forechecking, bringing energy and building off my linemates," Cizikas said. "We work well together when we're in sync and playing the style we have to, to succeed. I think that's what our main focus is going to be."
Video: NYI@WPG: Cizikas taps home loose puck to tie game
Clutterbuck is fully healthy and pain free after offseason back surgery to correct a lingering - and painful - slate of injuries. His 23 points last season were his most since 2015-16 - the last time this line was together - and he'll look to be a physical factor once again.
Together, Cizikas and Clutterbuck make up the Islanders top penalty-killing unit and that duo will likely be the first two over the boards.
As for the Mayor of Long Island, Martin completes the line. There was just something off about Cizikas and Clutterbuck without him. Martin did what he does best, leading the team with 275 hits, while contributing 14 points (6G, 8A).
"I think we can more out of Marty and Clutter in terms of production," Trotz said. "Clutter is capable of more goals. I need a little more offense from there. He shoots the puck so well and last year he was just snake-bit, he probably missed five or six empty nets that were there and in good years go in… They're capable. I expect them to be better, I expect everyone to be better. As a group, if they don't have the production, but can be better in two or three other areas, I'll take that. That group is a great identity line."
Tom Kuhnhackl often has to fight for a spot during training camp, but as Trotz noted, the 27-year-old keeps finding ways to stick. Kuhnhackl is back for a second season with the Islanders and is Swiss Army Knife for the Islanders. Kuhnhackl can slot in the top or bottom six, kill penalties and Trotz likes his championship experience.
Andrew Ladd will start the season on IR after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in the offseason. Ladd was limited to 26 games last season due to a pair of injuries and while he is skating - on his own, not with the team - the Isles are taking a cautious approach, with no set timetable. When healthy, Ladd brings a gritty and steady game to the Isles lineup and contributed 11 points (3G, 8A) in his 26 games last season. Ladd is 54 games shy of 1,000 for his career.
"Right before both times he got hurt, he was playing probably as well as I'd seen Andrew play," Trotz said at media day. "Andrew was playing with a bit of a junkyard mentality and he's got a really good skill set, especially his small-area game. He's got a sneaky-good release and I really liked the way he was playing right before he got hurt."
Ross Johnston appeared in 17 games for the Islanders last season, and can expect to see a similar role again this season. Trotz liked Johnston's size and toughness, saying he brings a unique element to the team, and has seen some growth in Johnston's play and poise with the puck.