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Islanders season preview: Barzal, Eberle counted on to provide offense

Need more scoring from top-six forwards, power-play production

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

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. 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 each of the 31 teams. Today, the New York Islanders.

 

Coach: Barry Trotz (second season)

Last season: 48-27-7; second place Metropolitan Division, lost to Carolina Hurricanes in Eastern Conference Second Round

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Varlamov replaces Lehner

The Islanders made a big change in net despite allowing the fewest goals (191) in the NHL last season. Semyon Varlamov agreed to a four-year contract July 1, replacing Robin Lehner, who in his one season with New York was voted a Vezina Trophy finalist for the top goalie in the NHL. Varlamov had a .909 save percentage in 49 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season. He will share the goalie duties with Thomas Greiss, who enters the final season of the three-year contract he signed Jan. 30, 2017.

Video: EDM@COL: Varlamov denies Kassian from in tight

 

2. Shaking up the power play

Trotz said on the first day of training camp that the Islanders must find ways to score more goals on the power play, which finished 29th last season (14.5 percent). Among the notable changes, assistant coach Jim Hiller was hired June 19 after four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Center Derick Brassard, who has 135 power-play points in the NHL, signed a one-year contract Aug. 21. Assistant Scott Gomez, who ran the power play last season, did not return.

 

3. Toews' impact

This will be the first full NHL season for defenseman Devon Toews after being promoted from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League last December. The 25-year-old made a near-seamless transition to the NHL with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) and a plus-7 rating in 48 games. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he averaged 19:09 of ice time and had five points (one goal, four assists) in eight games. A smooth skater who plays well at each end, Toews could average more than 20 minutes per game this season.

 

4. Eberle's resurgence

Jordan Eberle remains one of the Islanders' top-six forwards after he signed a five-year contract June 14. He will need to be more consistent this season if New York hopes to contend in what is expected to be an improved Metropolitan Division.

Eberle scored 19 goals last season, his fewest since the shortened 2012-13 season (16). But he found chemistry with center Mathew Barzal late and scored in four straight games during New York's sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Video: PHI@NYI: Eberle roofs wrister to tie game late

 

5. More offense from Barzal

The Islanders' most-gifted offensive player, Barzal will be counted on to produce more after the 22-year-old finished last season with 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists), a 23-point dip from when he had 85 (22 goals, 63 assists) and won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year in 2017-18. With a full season of Trotz's system under his belt, Barzal, who is entering the final year of his entry-level contract, should be able to boost his scoring totals.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Most of the forward group from last season is returning, but there appears to be one spot available on the wing among the top nine. Candidates include 2014 first-round NHL Draft picks Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang; Tom Kuhnhackl, who played in all eight playoff games with the Islanders last season; and Oliver Wahlstrom, a first-round pick (No. 11) in the 2018 NHL Draft who impressed late last season with Bridgeport. Andrew Ladd, who tore his ACL on March 24, is expected to begin the season on injured reserve.

The Islanders are deep on defense and it's not out of the question they could enter the season with eight defensemen if they think Noah Dobson, a first-round pick (No. 12) in 2018, is ready to play in the NHL. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock emerged as a top pair in the second half of last season and played a huge role in the first round of the playoffs, and Toews and Scott Mayfield also proved to be a formidable pair. Nick Leddy, 28, Thomas Hickey, 30, and Johnny Boychuk, 35, provide experience, so the Islanders could have a tough time deciding on their top six before the season opener Oct. 4.

 

Most intriguing addition

Brassard replaces Valtteri Filppula, who signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on July 1. He may not be the defensive center Filppula was for the Islanders last season but said he's extra motivated after playing for three teams (Penguins, Florida Panthers, Avalanche) in 2018-19. Brassard has 451 points (176 goals, 275 assists) in 786 NHL regular-season games and brings 60 points (23 goals, 37 assists) in 99 playoff games to a team looking to take the next step.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Dal Colle looks to be ready for a full-time role in the NHL after opening some eyes last season with his willingness to forecheck and play in front of the net. The 23-year-old agreed to a two-year contract Aug. 19 after he had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 28 games with New York and 18 goals in 34 AHL games last season.

Video: BUF@NYI: Dal Colle tips in Pelech's shot to pad lead

 

Ready to break through

Dobson has impressed during training camp and it's likely he will at least start the season with the Islanders before they decide to either keep him or have him play one more season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Because of his age (19) and an agreement with the Canadian Hockey League, Dobson is not eligible to play in the AHL this season. Trotz has openly questioned whether another year of junior hockey would benefit the two-time Memorial Cup champion, who can play nine games for New York before the first year of his entry-level contract would begin.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Toews (average draft position: 168.4) emerged on the first power play during the playoffs, where four of his five points were with the man-advantage, and is an even more intriguing deep sleeper after the hiring of Hiller, who will coach the power play this season. -- Pete Jensen

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Anders Lee -- Mathew Barzal -- Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier -- Brock Nelson -- Josh Bailey

Michael Dal Colle -- Derick Brassard -- Leo Komarov

Matt Martin -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews -- Scott Mayfield

Nick Leddy -- Noah Dobson

Semyon Varlamov

Thomas Greiss

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