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Isles-Panthers Players to Watch

Check out the players from each team who could make a significant impact in the upcoming series

by Sasha Kandrach KandrachSasha /

This Saturday, the New York Islanders (35-23-10) and Florida Panthers (35-26-8) will face off at 4 p.m. ET in their best-of-five Qualifying Series at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena. This year's postseason meeting is projected to be chess match given the Hall of Fame coaching resumes of Barry Trotz and Joel Quenneville - and the two-month scouting session. 

During the regular season, the Isles swept the season series 3-0-0, winning twice in regulation and once in a shootout. All three games were well-matched and decided by one goal, except the series finale which the Isles won 3-1, as a result of an empty-net goal scored in the final three seconds of play. 

With a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line, the series is expected to be hard-fought, as the defensively detailed and relentless Isles will look to stifle Florida's high-scoring offense. Take a look at some of the top players from each team to keep an eye on:

New York Islanders:

Lee-Barzal-Eberle Line

The Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle trio is one of the few lines that stayed intact for the majority of the regular season and was reunited all throughout training camp. Barzal led the Islanders with 60 points (19G, 41A), while Lee (20G, 23A) and Eberle (16G, 24A) each finished top-five in team scoring. The line was riding some momentum prior to the pause as they had combined for 32 points in their last 10 games, finished in the top five in scoring and are hoping to pick up where they left off. 

Against the Panthers, all three put up points throughout the season series. Barzal led the way, scoring at least a point in all three meetings and finished the season series with two goals and two helpers. Lee scored in the first game and on the empty-net in the final game of the season series, as he completed a Gordie Howe hat trick. Eberle posted two assists including one on Barzal's game-winning goal on Dec. 12. 

The line is looking to recapture their playoff production from last year's run to the second round, as they combined for a total of 20 points (7G, 13A) in eight games. 

Defensive Depth 

After battling a plethora of injuries throughout the regular season, the Isles are returning a fully healthy lineup, including a rejuvenated blueline. Namely, the Islanders will have both right-shots, Adam Pelech and Johnny Boychuk readily available. 

Prior to the pause, Pelech was out indefinitely after suffering a torn Achilles tendon on Jan. 2, which required surgery. Pelech was logging top minutes against opposing team's top lines alongside d-partner Ryan Pulock and was a crucial component of the Isles' penalty kill. Boychuk had missed the last three games after taking an errant skate to the eyelid that required 90 stitches to repair against Montreal on March 3. 

A week before the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired veteran Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils to give the Isles some added depth. Greene, who shoots left like Pelech, helped stabilize the Isles preferred lefty-righty defensive pairings and added a veteran presence. 

The Islanders 2020 Qualifiers and Playoffs Roster includes 10 capable defenseman in: Pelech, Pulock, Devon Toews, Scott Mayfield, Nick Leddy, Boychuk, Noah Dobson, Greene, Thomas Hickey and Sebastian Aho. 

Video: FLA@NYI: Mayfield scores after puck ricochets in

The Islanders, who allowed the ninth-fewest goals-against per game (2.79) this season, are fortunate to have more than six defenseman capable of suiting up for game action and an excess of talent competing for the top three pairings. 

"They know there's only six spots," Head Coach Barry Trotz said during Training Camp. "There's eight, nine, 10 guys that are very capable of stepping in. Obviously, the guys that we have used in the past have a little leg up on that, but they're all right there and they're battling for, as we say, seating. Next man up mentality."

Casey Cizikas 

Video: Isles Highlights: Casey Cizikas

The Islanders spark plug is fully rehabbed, reenergized and eager to return to action. Cizikas was placed on IR on Feb. 12 due after a leg laceration and missed the next month. During the 48 games he played, he still managed to pick up 14 points (10G, 4A). 

Cizikas centers the Isles Identity Line, which faces opposing top lines and is known for their relentless, hard-hitting and feisty style of play. The line was unfortunately plagued with injuries this season, and only suited up for 19 games in total together, according to Natural Stat Trick's Line Tool. 

With Cizikas back and healthy, the Isles' lineup features depth down the middle of every line and should see a boost in their faceoff draws. Cizikas, who shoots left and won 53.5% of his faceoffs this season, also strengthens the Isles penalty kill. Even with his burdensome injuries, Cizikas still led the Islanders in the most shorthanded draws with 143.

J.G. Pageau

Video: Isles Highlights: JG Pageau

The Isles made a splash at the trade deadline as they picked up, and subsequently extended, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, from the Ottawa Senators. 

The 27-year-old right-shot center provided the Islanders with a stable four center group (Barzal, Nelson, Pageau and Cizikas) and offers versatility, as he will be utilized on both the power play and penalty kill. Pageau was ranked fifth in the league for the most shorthanded faceoff wins with 97 and a win percentage of 48.7%. He also took and won the third-most of defensive zone draws in the NHL, having took 532 and winning 51.9%. 

Prior to the pause, Pageau was in the midst of a career-best season with his 26 goals (scoring 24 in Ottawa) and his 42 points was on track to establish a new career high (previously 43).  

"It's a huge benefit for sure," Pageau said. "It gets me more time to spend with the guys and get to know them a little more. Usually, practices get shorter and shorter as the season goes on."

Pageau hasn't been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2017, when he and current teammate Derick Brassard advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Throughout his playoffs career, Pageau is no stranger to showing up for the big moments as he's totaled 12 goals and 16 points in 35 postseason games. 

Brock Nelson

Video: Isles Highlights: Brock Nelson

After signing a six-year contract extension during the offseason, the 28-year-old set career-highs in points (54) and assists (28) and game-winning goals (5). Nelson was on pace to reach a new career-high in goals before the pause, but still matched his career-best 26. 

The left-shot center was clutch for the Isles in game-deciding situations and frequently one of the three skaters sent over the boards during the Isles' 21 overtime games. Behind Mathew Barzal, Nelson logs the most time on ice per game among forwards with a nightly average of 18:52. 

"I rely on Brock a ton," Trotz said during camp. "He's shown me exactly what I saw as an opposing coach is that there's more to his game. He's a big body, he's got good hockey IQ, he can make plays, he can score goals. To me, he's just scratching, every year, the surface of what he can continually be. He had a pretty good year the last year and three quarters. If we can continue to grow that, then he's going to get to that next level that every good pro does."

When it comes to taking important and late game draws, Nelson has become one of the Isles' go-to faceoff specialists. This season, he was ranked 10th in the NHL for most even-strength faceoffs with 936 and won 50.6% of them. 

During last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs run, Nelson scored four goals in eight games. 

Florida Panthers:

Sergei Bobrovsky 

Between the pipes, Bobrovksy could be Florida's X-Factor in the matchup. After signing a seven-year deal with the Panthers during the offseason, the Russian netminder finished his underwhelming debut season with a record of 23-19-6 with a 3.23 GAA and a .900 SV%. 

In his previous nine NHL seasons spent between Philadelphia and Columbus, he had posted a 2.46 GAA and .919 SV%. Last season, Bobrovsky only allowed eight goals in four games and recorded a .932 save percentage as he and the Blue Jackets cleanly swept, and shocked, the President's Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round. In the Second Round, Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets lost in Game 6 to the eventual Stanley Cup runner-ups, the Boston Bruins. 

Up until the NHL pause, Bobrovsky had missed the final four games with a lower-body injury. Healthy and refreshed, Bobrovsky is eager for a fresh start and if he stands tall - he could have a lasting impact in this series. 

Aleksander Barkov 

Video: Condensed Game: Panthers @ Islanders

The Panthers sixth-ranked offense, which averages 3.30 goals for, is driven by it's dynamic threats like Aleksander Barkov. Florida's captain, who stands 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, completed his fifth-straight 20-goal regular season with his 62 points (20G, 42) in 66 games. 

Barkov is a threat at the faceoff circle. The 24-year-old Finn took the 11th most draws in the NHL with 1203 and won 54.3% of them (653 total). 

Florida's 10th-ranked power play is a lethal threat the Isles will need to be wary of. Their top unit includes; Keith Yandle, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov. All five members of the unit racked up at least 15 points or more each on the man advantage. 

"They have a couple of guys that drive their offense, so those will be the guys you have to watch and markup," Scott Mayfield said. "Their power play is something that sticks out to me. They move the puck around pretty well and they have shooters at almost every spot. They're pretty dynamic and pretty dangerous almost everywhere. It's going to be a challenge for our d-corps, but right now our d-zone is looking really well in practice. We'll hammer down some tendencies they have that hopefully we can exploit."

Barkov has only been to the playoffs once back in 2016 against the Islanders, where he scored twice and had one assist. 

Jonathan Huberdeau

Another of Florida's offensive weapons is left winger Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau, who was the Panthers' 2020 NHL All Star, was following up his 2018-19 92-point season with his team-high 78 points and 55 assists (23 goals) throughout 69 games. 

As of training camp, the Panthers seemed to have spread out their offensive power with placing Huberdeau on the left side of Erik Haula opposed to slotting Huberdeau alongside Barkov. According to Natural Stat Trick's Line Tool, Barkov and Huberdeau suited up in 66 games together this season. 

Like Barkov, Huberdeau's only postseason experience was back in 2016 where he compiled scored once and dished two helpers. 

Noel Accari 

While the Panthers don't rely on contributions from all four lines as much as the Islanders do, Florida finished the regular season with five players reaching the 20-goal mark and seven players scoring at least 15 times. 

After spending the entirety of his career in the Boston organization and coming off of Boston's Stanley Cup Final run in 2019, Accari signed a three-year deal with Florida as a free agent during his shortened offseason.  

In his debut season with the Panthers, the defensively-inclined center doubled his previous career-best 10 goals with new career-highs of 20 goals and 27 points. He also led the Panthers with his five game-winning goals. Accari is also a crucial component of the Panthers' penalty kill. He logged the third-most minutes on the PK at 167:30 and the highest nightly average of 2:32.

In last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Bruins, Accari totaled four points (2G, 2A) through 19 games. 

Keith Yandle 

The left-shot defenseman, Keith Yandle, quarterbacks the Panthers' top power play is fifth among his teammates for time on ice per game played (19:42) and first in power play TOI (3:42). In his fourth season with the Panthers and 13th season in the league, Yandle led Florida's blueline with 45 points (5G, 40A). 

The 33-year-old also possesses the current longest ironman streak in the league with 866-consecutive games played and is ranked fourth all-time. 

Yandle is also widely recognized by the players as the funniest player in the NHL, and was later confirmed as such through the NHLPA's Player Polls. 

Yandle is one of the more experienced players in the postseason among the Panthers. Back in 2015, Yandle and the Rangers lost in the Eastern Conference to Tampa Bay and in 2012, Yandle and the Phoenix Coyotes lost in the Western Conference Finals to Los Angeles. 

In total, Yandle has amassed 31 points (6G, 25A) in 51 playoff games. 

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