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Tavares, playoff experience give Islanders optimism

by Brian Compton / New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have assembled a talented group of young players over the past seven years, but they're still trying to reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1993.

They enter this season with a new home. After playing at Nassau Coliseum since 1972, the Islanders begin their first season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Oct. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

With another year of seasoning under their belts and the arena issue in the rearview mirror, it's time for the Islanders to prove they are a Stanley Cup contender.

Here are four reasons for the Islanders to be optimistic:

John Tavares: A two-time finalist for the Hart Trophy (2013, 2015), Tavares is an elite player in the NHL. One of his many attributes is his ability to get the most out of the players around him. Tavares turns 25 on Sept. 20.

"He's gone through Matt Moulson, he's gone through PA Parenteau. … no matter who's on that line and when they're going, he finds a way to get it done," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He makes players around him better and he leads by example, and he's only getting better as a leader too. He's still a young captain in this League."

Experience gained: The Islanders entered last season with some playoff experience (2013 against the Pittsburgh Penguins), but a few more players got a taste after a seven-game series loss to the Washington Capitals. Key young players such as Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson gained valuable experience and now have a better idea of what it takes to succeed in the League.

"I think I'm hungrier now than I ever have been," said Strome, who had 50 points in 81 games last season. "Now that I've gotten a taste of the League and what some success feels like, I'm just hungry for more. I think I did have a good year and I'm pretty satisfied considering the ups and downs, but I'm still hungry to get to the next level. I don't know if it's going to be this year or next year, but I know where I can be as a player. Now it's just time to limit that learning curve."

More youth on the way: The Islanders traded defenseman Griffin Reinhart, the fourth player selected at the 2012 NHL Draft, to the Edmonton Oilers in June, but that doesn't mean there is a shortage of young players on the blue line. Ryan Pulock, the Islanders' first-round pick (No. 15) in 2013, could be ready to make the jump from the American Hockey League. Pulock, 20, had 17 goals in 54 games for Bridgeport and has a slap shot that has been clocked at more than 100 miles per hour.

"Obviously, [Reinhart's] been traded, but there's still that competition there," Pulock said at Islanders development camp last month. "It doesn't give me a free spot. I'm still fighting every inch for a spot. Things really haven't changed that way, but I guess it's one less prospect fighting for that same spot."

Room to add: Salary-cap space is a luxury, and the Islanders should have roughly $5 million in room if Pulock makes the roster as expected and they agree to terms with Nelson, a restricted free agent. It could provide general manager Garth Snow with the ability to add another key player at the NHL Trade Deadline, if he deems it necessary.

"It's always good to have cap room," Snow said. "We're in a position now where we have to plan accordingly because these young players are going to need new contracts when they get out of their entry-level contracts. Raises are usually in order when the player performs. We have to keep that in mind."

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