NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the New York Islanders.
[Islanders 31 IN 31: Season Preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]
1. How does Mathew Barzal fare in his second NHL season?
If the Islanders are going to compete for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will need Barzal to build on the 85-point season (22 goals, 63 assists) he had as a rookie that earned him the Calder Trophy.
But this time, Barzal will have to do it as the No. 1 center after John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Video: 31 in 31: New York Islanders 2018-19 season preview
"I don't think outside pressure puts anything on this young man," Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said of Barzal. "I think that he's comfortable in his own skin, and whatever pressure, he will put on himself. It's not whether it's the gain of a player, the addition or a subtraction. I don't think that will affect him whatsoever."
2. Is the defense and goaltending good enough?
The Islanders missed the playoffs for a second straight season after allowing 293 goals, most in the NHL. They lost defenseman Calvin de Haan (Carolina Hurricanes) and goalie Jaroslav Halak (Boston Bruins) as free agents. They'll attempt to fill the void left by de Haan internally (expect Adam Pelech to get an expanded role and Devon Toews to receive an opportunity) and agreed to terms on a one-year contract with goalie Robin Lehner on July 3.
Lehner, 27, had a .920 save percentage for the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17, but that dipped to .908 last season. With director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco hired by the Islanders in the offseason, the hope is Lehner can return to the form of two seasons ago.
Video: Discussing how the Islanders can improve defensively
"He's been working here (in New York) all summer," Lamoriello said of Lehner. "He came here early. He certainly has the ability, without question. I have total confidence in him to get back where he performed at his highest level, and hopefully we can get Thomas Greiss back where he was prior to last year.
"In saying all of that, we all know how important goaltending is. Hopefully it's on the right track."
3. Can Joshua Ho-Sang become a full-time NHL player?
A first-round pick (No. 28) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Ho-Sang remains the biggest wild card in the Islanders organization. The skilled forward has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 43 NHL games over the past two seasons. With Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders have faith Ho-Sang can be the player they envision.
"I think that anytime a player has the type of God-given ability that he has, then you have hopes," Lamoriello said. "I think that he has made a commitment to himself that he wants to be a player, he wants to have success and he wants to be a part of the team. He told me this.
"He came to prospect camp (in June) and was exemplary in prospect camp as far as everything that he said he wanted to do. I know he's worked hard all summer. I did meet face to face with him, so really his future is in his hands. I've always said players determine how much they play, when they play and where they play, and I think that's the best way I can answer this young man."
Video: PHI@NYI: Ho-Sang deflects shot past Elliott