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31 in 31

Three questions facing New York Islanders

Building on success, depth at center areas of focus

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor 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 do they build on last season's success?

The Islanders return this season with a roster similar to the one that advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now they must find a way to take the next step.

"I think last year, we had something to prove," coach Barry Trotz said. "The group that was there, obviously with [John Tavares] leaving (for the Toronto Maple Leafs), I think the rest of the group was pretty determined to say, 'Hey, we're not a one-person team.' That buy-in was pretty easy."

Video: 31 in 31: New York Islanders 2019-20 season preview


2. Are they deep enough at center?

New York returns three solid centers from last season -- Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas, who scored an NHL career-high 20 goals -- but the departure of Valtteri Filppula to the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent leaves a rather large hole; Filppula played in all situations and scored 17 goals.

Barring a move, Tanner Fritz, who has played 42 NHL games, will enter training camp as the fourth center. Mason Jobst, who had 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games for Ohio State last season, is in the mix.

Trotz said moving Anthony Beauvillier from left wing to center, his natural position, is a possibility.  

"We have a couple of guys that can play in the middle. But looking back, are we going to be able to get 20 goals out of Casey again? Probably not," Trotz said. "I think his previous high was nine; last year, he had 20. If we can fall somewhere in between with Casey … [Filppula] had 17.

"We're going to need someone to fill that, be it [Fritz], Jobst, one of the guys from the minors, or Anthony moving to the middle. We're going to have to get some offense from our center ice position."

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Barzal


3. Can Semyon Varlamov adequately replace Robin Lehner?

New York's goalie tandem of Lehner and Thomas Greiss won the Jennings Trophy last season after allowing the fewest goals (191) in the NHL and setting an Islanders record with 11 shutouts. But Lehner, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 1.

Trotz said he has faith in Varlamov, who signed a four-year contract with New York and has 213 NHL wins with the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche. 

"I've always thought he's been one of the better athletic goaltenders in the National Hockey League," Trotz said. "I know his work ethic and his pride in his craft is very, very high. I'm very confident that he can put up very similar numbers as he has in the past.

"We had incredible numbers last year. I don't know if we'll be able to duplicate it, but that will be the goal. Every year is a different type of situation. But I'm very confident."

Video: What Islanders still need as offseason moves along

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