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Islanders season preview: Barzal, Pulock ready to step up

Looking to play bigger roles for New York after departure of Tavares

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The 2018-19 NHL season begins Oct. 3. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the New York Islanders.

 

Coach: Barry Trotz (first season)

Last season: 35-37-10; seventh place Metropolitan Division

 

5 KEYS
1. Moving on without Tavares

The Islanders are entering a season without center John Tavares for the first time since 2008-09 after their captain signed a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1. Tavares' departure puts added emphasis on Mathew Barzal to produce after he won the Calder Trophy last season as NHL rookie of the year. The 21-year-old center led the Islanders with 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists), but he won't have Tavares playing in front of him this time around.

"John's a great player; it's tough to replace him," Barzal said. "But now that's over with. You've got to look ahead. I'm excited for the challenge. We've got a lot of other guys here that I'm assuming are excited to fill a bigger role."

Video: How the Islanders are moving on from John Tavares

 

2. Trotz's impact

It's not every day the reigning Stanley Cup-winning coach doesn't return the following season, but Barry Trotz resigned as coach of the Washington Capitals on June 18 and joined the Islanders three days later. For a team desperate to play better in its defensive zone and keep the puck out of its net, Trotz is expected to help in those areas. New York allowed 293 goals last season, most in the NHL, and had the worst penalty kill (73.2 percent). 

 

3. More from bottom six

The Islanders had little trouble scoring last season, but they were extremely top-heavy. Without Tavares, they will need more from their bottom two lines, which failed to contribute consistently. Left wing Andrew Ladd, who is entering the third season of the seven-year contract he signed July 1, 2016, scored 12 goals in 73 games last season. Right wing Cal Clutterbuck did not score after Jan. 13. The Islanders won't be short of veterans in their bottom six after they signed Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl as free agents, and reacquired Matt Martin in a trade from the Maple Leafs on July 3.

 

4. Emergence of Pulock

It will be essential that defenseman Ryan Pulock builds on what was a solid second half of last season, when he had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) over his final 30 games, including five multipoint games. The 23-year-old should receive an increased workload this season, particularly on the power play.

"I felt good," Pulock said. "The start of the year was a little up and down, just trying to get a regular spot in the lineup. When I was able to kind of play every night [in the second half], my confidence grew and I was able to be myself out there." 

Video: NYI@DET: Pulock ties it up late with power-play goal

 

5. Creating two home-ice advantages

In a very unique situation, the Islanders are going to split their home schedule between Barclays Center in Brooklyn and their original home, NYCB Live, formerly known as Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders played at the Coliseum from their inception in 1972 until 2015, when they moved to Barclays Center. They are hopeful to move into a new arena at Belmont Park in 2021.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN
Making the cut

The biggest battle in camp will determine which center will play directly behind Barzal. Brock Nelson is the current choice by default given his NHL experience (he's a three-time 20-goal scorer who has played 398 games), but he's expected to be pushed hard by Jan Kovar, an intriguing candidate who arrives after playing five seasons with Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 28-year-old had at least 63 points in three of his first four KHL seasons before he had 35 points in 54 games last season.

 

Most intriguing addition

Goalie Robin Lehner has had his ups and downs over the course of his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, and he will have every opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in New York. He'll have a solid support system after the Islanders hired director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goaltending coach Piero Greco. Korn has worked with Trotz going back to their days with the Nashville Predators and helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup last season; Greco was goaltending coach for Toronto of the American Hockey League, which won the 2018 Calder Cup. Lehner signed a one-year contract July 3.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Joshua Ho-Sang has the skill to be a top-six forward in the NHL and has shown signs of being one during the past two seasons (22 points in 43 NHL games). Ho-Sang was sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Monday, but the 22-year-old could have an impact later this season if he makes the most of his time in the minors. 

 

Ready to break through

Defenseman Devon Toews, selected in the fourth round (No. 108) in the 2014 NHL Draft, started last season with Bridgeport and was on the cusp of being promoted before he had season-ending shoulder injury in January.

Toews is healthy and has had a solid training camp. The smooth-skating defenseman signed a two-year contract July 16.

Video: Discussing how the Islanders can improve defensively

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Anthony Beauvillier -- Mathew Barzal -- Jordan Eberle

Anders Lee -- Brock Nelson -- Josh Bailey

Andrew Ladd -- Valtteri Filppula -- Leo Komarov

Matt Martin -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy -- Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey -- Ryan Pulock

Adam Pelech -- Scott Mayfield

Robin Lehner

Thomas Greiss

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