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Islanders Season Preview: Forwards

Doug Weight likes the talent in his forward corps this season

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

What stands out to Doug Weight about the New York Islanders forward group is the talent. 

Between the addition of Jordan Eberle and the anticipated emergence of Joshua Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal, the Islanders coach said the Isles have an influx of skill up front.  

"I think we're a little more talented than we've been," Weight said. "We have three dynamic players in Barzy, Ho's and Ebs. Quick hands, deceptive, able to find people, hockey sense."

That's not a knock on the Islanders 101-point team in 2014-15, or the team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2015-16. Those teams were lauded for their fast play and physical determination, an identity forged by a scrappy fourth line and a workmanlike star in John Tavares. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: "We're ready to go. I like our skill sets in this locker room. We've got a lot of creativity, but it's just bringing it each & every night." pic.twitter.com/4yux1Otxsu

But the makeup of this forward group is different. Barzal, Eberle and Ho-Sang look to add more speed to an already fast lineup, while bringing some offensive creativity to the mix. All three are dynamic offensive players and look to add some more firepower to a lineup that scored the 10th-most goals in the NHL last season. Weight wants this influx of talent to compliment the Islanders already-established work ethic and identity. 

"We need to be that team that's just competing, working, rolling shifts," Weight said. "That's our focus moving forward, our shift length, our battle level, compete level. The talent can get you in trouble if you start thinking the power play is going to work itself because we have three dynamic players."

Barzal, Eberle and Ho-Sang are just three of the pieces in the Islanders offense. With the season starting on Friday night, NewYorkIslanders.com takes an in-depth look at the Islanders forwards. 

THE YOUNG GUYS:

MATHEW BARZAL:
Mathew Barzal was on a mission at this year's camp, determined to not only make the Islanders roster, but to take on a meaningful role. He auditioned on the top power-play unit and regularly skated with established NHLers like Andrew Ladd and Josh Bailey. 

Barzal led the Islanders with seven points (3G, 4A) in five preseason games, including a three-assist night against the Buffalo Sabres and an electric coast-to-coast goal against the New Jersey Devils. 

Video: NJD@NYI: Barzal shows off speed and shot on PPG

"I'm just trying to work hard and take advantage of the opportunity that they're giving me right now," Barzal said. "They're putting me in some key situations, playing the power play, so just trying to make the most of it and do everything right."

Barzal's game got stronger as camp wore on, which is the difference between his last two training camps and this season. He'll add some creativity and speed to the Islanders offense and could start the season with the top power-play unit. 

JOSH HO-SANG: 
Josh Ho-Sang may be the most elusive offensive player the Islanders have had in years. He's always a threat to turnstile defensemen with his speed and hands, he puts the opposition on its heels and warrants attention when he's on the ice. 

Ho-Sang is unpredictable with the puck, but that speaks to his creativity. He scored 10 points (4G, 6A) in 21 games last season and wasn't afraid to battle along the boards, but his strong suit is his dynamic playmaking. Ho-Sang creates chances with his skating, hands and vision and does it with flair. 

"If you have a guy like Josh or Barzy, they're a little dynamic in the way they play," Weight said. "They are such edge players and quick and very deceptive. You have to be ready for pucks, you have to be ready for guys to cut back and come into your lane and not run into them."

ANTHONY BEAUVILLIER:
With so much attention on Barzal and Ho-Sang at this year's camp, Anthony Beauvillier flew under the radar a bit, but the 20-year-old looks to continue to be a nice piece for the Islanders. 

Beauvillier was a versatile player last season, alternating between center and wing while moving up and down the lineup as needed. At camp this year, Doug Weight has added a few more tools to his Swiss army knife, integrating Beauvillier into the penalty kill and giving him looks on the power play. 

Video: NYI@PHI: Beauvillier nets second goal on power play

"It's nice to have that chance to prove myself with what I can do on the PK and the power play," Beauvillier said. "I know the routs, I know the system and I just need to put in practice now. I felt pretty good out there."

Beauvillier's chameleon-like ability to adapt to his surroundings showed in the preseason finale win over Philadelphia. He hustled on the PK and scored a pair of goals, ripping a one-timer under the bar on a 4-on-3 power play. Weight called Beauvillier fearless for his gritty play, but the 2015 first-rounder (28th overall) also has skill to go along with it. 

"He's been excellent in every aspect of the game," Weight said. "He's really taken on the PKs and he's an engine, he's working, he's skating better, he's put work in and he's a heck of a player."

THE TOP LINE: 

Jordan Eberle was the Islanders marquee addition this offseason and the intent was clear - to play alongside John Tavares. 

Eberle will start the season as the top-line right wing, joining Tavares and Anders Lee. In Eberle, the Islanders landed a proven goal scorer with five 20-goal seasons, three 25-goal seasons and a 76-point year on his resume. 

The top line has remained largely intact throughout training camp, as Eberle and Tavares look to rekindle their chemistry from the IIHF World Championships and World Juniors.

"So far it's been really good," Tavares said. "It feels comfortable, you have a good sense of that. [I have a] pretty good sense of him from juniors and the time we've played together at the World Championships. I know he's got great hands, great hockey sense and is quicker than people think to. Deceptive speed, sees the ice really well and obviously around the net has a great touch as well."

Eberle's only preseason goal was a beauty, roofing a backhander from the slot.

Video: NYI@BUF: Eberle beats Lehner with nifty backhander

As for the rest of the line, Lee is coming off a career-high 34 goals and doesn't plan on changing his approach, posting up in front of the net, creating havoc and banging in rebounds. It's not a huge surprise to see Lee mesh well with Tavares, who has traditionally fared well with linemates with a nose for the crease.

Tavares looked like his usual self during training camp and preseason. The Islanders captain paced practices with his relentless work ethic and scored three points (2G, 1A) in three preseason games. That included a pair of goals - and one OT winner - in the Islanders visit to Nassau Coliseum. 

Video: Tavares Scores OT Winner At Coliseum

"He's a presence," Weight said of Tavares. "That's what great players are, great people and he has that presence and respect and people want to follow him."

Tavares led the Islanders with 66 points (28G, 38A) in 77 games last season, but given the high standard he sets for himself, there's room for improvement, especially after consecutive 30-goal and 70-plus point seasons. He has never scored fewer than 24 goals - even hitting that mark in the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign. 

 

THE VETERANS: 

LADD AND CHIMERA: 
There was an adjustment period when Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera signed as free agents with the Islanders last season. Both had to uproot their families from comfortable and familiar situations, as well as get used to a new team, coaching style, system, etc. 

"It's kind of like coming home [this season] instead of getting acclimated to a new place," Chimera said.

They both finished 2016-17 strong, with Ladd burying 23 goals and Chimera netting 20 by season's end. Both players were effective scorers under Weight, as Ladd scored 15 of his 23 goals while Chimera scored 12 of his 20 after the midway point. 

"I changed a few things in the offseason and hopefully they translate here for a good start," Ladd said. 

JOSH BAILEY:
Josh Bailey had a career-year in 2016-17, with 56 points (13G, 43A) in 82 games. The acquisition of Jordan Eberle could shift Bailey from Tavares' wing, but Bailey could wind up with Andrew Ladd and Mathew Barzal, a trio that spent a lot of time together during training camp. Bailey's always been lauded for his two-way game, but as last season showed, the longest-tenured Islander can assert himself offensively as well. 

BROCK NELSON: 
Brock Nelson hit the 20-goal mark for a third straight season with a career-high 45 points in 2016-17, but feels there's room for more. 

"Obviously you want to increase your production and consistency, different areas of the game," Nelson said. "Sometimes you're not always scoring, but there's different ways you can contribute to the team and help them win games. That's probably the main focus." 

Nelson's got a smooth and sharp wrist shot and spent a decent amount of time playing with either Josh Ho-Sang or Anthony Beauvillier during training camp, so the 25-year-old could play the older brother on a new kid line. 

 

NIKOLAY KULEMIN, CASEY CIZIKAS, CAL CLUTTERBUCK: 
While Doug Weight experimented with different line combinations during training camp, the Islanders fourth line was usually together. Weight knows he's going to get energy, grinding physical play, responsible defense and spurts of offense from this trio. It's no surprise that they are the Islanders' top-three most-used penalty killers (among forwards) last season. 

"It's no secret, you know what you're getting with them," Weight said. "They are a good line together, they're familiar, great penalty killers and a real good pulse of the team. It's a luxury when you can put those guys out after a goal or at the start of a period and they have a great work ethic and good chemistry." 

Cizikas notched 25 points (8G, 17A) last season and was on pace for a career year, before injuries limited his season to 59 games. His career-high is still 29 points (8G, 21A), set in the 2015-16 season. 

Clutterbuck's season was also limited due to injury, with the mustached sharpshooter scoring 20 points (5G, 15A) in 66 games. Healthy and raring to go, Clutterbuck looks to return closer to his 2015-16 stats, where he scored 15 goals, including five game-winners. 

As for Kulemin, the Russian will look to hit double-digit goals for the third time in four seasons with the Islanders, after recording 12 goals last season. All three are expected to be heavily-used penalty killers, as well as energy players, this season. 

- - 

The Islanders have 13 capable forwards on the roster for opening night - plus two more on IR in Alan Quine and Shane Prince - so invariably someone has to be the odd man out. Those are decisions Weight and his staff will have to make, but a surplus of forwards is certainly better than the alternative. 

"We're going to be a team with guys sitting out that are damn good players," Weight said. "It's a good problem."

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