The New York Islanders took a big step forward last season, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Now, it's about taking the next step.
There are some new faces in the Islanders' lineup, but for all the changes at forward, there was little turnover on the back end and in goal. The true test is on the ice and the season starts on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
But to bring you up to speed before we embark on the 2016-17 season, here are five key things to watch for as the season starts:
The New Guys:
The Islanders brought in Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and Dennis Seidenberg in the offseason, three veterans to add some offensive punch and help the team get over the hump.
Ladd has a pair of Stanley Cups (Carolina 2006, Chicago 2010) and has three 25-goal seasons on his resume, including last year. Chimera scored 20 goals last season and is closing in on 1,000 games, while Seidenberg won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.
"Playing with Andrew and playing with Jason and watching him over the years, I think that they're players we lack in the sense of April, May and June," assistant coach and assistant GM Doug Weight said. "They've been through those situations and I feel it's something we've lacked in the three-or-four playoff series we've experienced is that notch to go higher. As a team, they can bring more out of it."
Ladd was the Islanders' big get in the offseason and is the most versatile of the three new pieces. He averaged over two minutes of power play and penalty kill time last season, has a nice touch around the net, but also has an element of physicality. Chimera, 37, is known as the Ice Cheetah for his age-defying speed, while Seidenberg is a versatile blueliner that can play both sides, which plays in Jack Capuano's wheelhouse.
Both Ladd and Chimera have practiced alongside John Tavares in the two days leading up to the start of the season, so they could be the Islanders' top line on opening night.
While the Islanders brought in three 30-somethings this season, they're also giving a pair of 19-year-olds a chance to stick on the roster. Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, the Islanders' 2015 first-round picks, both turned strong training camps into a nine-game audition with the team.
"We have the luxury of having nine games with those guys and if we didn't think they were ready to help us, we would have sent them back to their junior programs," Capuano said. "We still have some time with them, we don't want to rush guys, so we just want to see how things play out."
Barzal made the roster with his offensive skill and creativity, while Beauvillier won over the coaches with his versatility - he plays everything short of defense and goalie - and play away from the puck. If they can't stick with the Islanders, Barzal will go back to the Seattle Thunderbirds, while Beauvillier would go back to the Shawinigan Cataractes. Since they are 19, neither of them can go to Bridgeport. All they want is a chance and now they have it.
Continuity is key for the Islanders' defensive unit, which is returning five of its top-six regulars from last season. Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan are all returning, with Dennis Seidenberg joining the fray.
They have their roles. Leddy is the best skater on the team, can carry the puck up the ice and chase down anyone who gets behind him. He's coming off a career-high 40 points last season and is still only 25. Johnny Boychuk's 100 mph slap shot and big hit potential speak for themselves, while Hamonic brings physicality, eats big minutes and is an emotional leader for the team. Hickey showed an ability to raise his game in the biggest moments, becoming a key contributor down the stretch and in the playoffs, while de Haan is a steady, reliable presence, able to take on a bigger role - and more minutes - when needed.
In Seidenberg, the Islanders are getting a versatile defenseman who can play either side, giving Jack Capuano options if he needs to shuffle his pairs.
While Ryan Pulock finished the season and played in the playoffs with the Islanders last season, the 21-year-old defenseman is starting the year in Bridgeport. Pulock and Adam Pelech were both assigned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but with the Islanders starting the season with only six defensemen, one of them is likely to rejoin the team relatively soon.
Not much needs to be said about John Tavares. He's the Islanders' best player, captain and should lead the team in scoring for the seventh time in eight seasons.
He put the Islanders on his back in Game 6 against Florida, scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals to propel the Islanders to the second round. The captain looked sharp at the World Cup of Hockey, scoring a goal and three assists for Team Canada. He's got new linemates this season in Ladd and whoever becomes the regular on the right side, but that's never fazed Tavares, who has 471 points (207G, 264A) in 510 games as an Islander.
The Islanders are starting the season with three goalies - Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and JF Berube - for the second straight season. Halak is looking to bounce back after an injury-riddled season last year, but two years ago, he set the Islanders' single-season wins record with 38. He looked sharp in the World Cup of Hockey and was able to get some quality game action, which his key considering he hadn't played since March 8.
Behind Halak, the Islanders have a very capable backup in Thomas Greiss. Greiss stepped up for the Islanders last season, setting career highs in wins (23), games played (41) and backstopping the Islanders to the second round of the postseason. JF Berube may have less experience than Halak and Greiss, but the Islanders' third goalie played well in his spot starts last season and the former Calder Cup champ was a force in the American League. No matter who's in net, the Islanders are in good hands.