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Islanders season preview: Sorokin's arrival can help build on playoff run

Healthy Pelech, re-signing Barzal also vital for success

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

The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the New York Islanders, who will play in the East Division.

 

Coach: Barry Trotz (third season)

Last season: 35-23-10 (.588 points percentage); seventh place in Eastern Conference, lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in Eastern Conference Final

 
3 KEYS

1. Sign Barzal

It's no secret how vital Mathew Barzal is to the Islanders' success, but the 23-year-old center remains a restricted free agent with training camp set to begin Jan. 3. Barzal led New York last season with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games and scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Barzal has scored 207 points (59 goals, 148 assists) in 234 NHL games and has become a better two-way player since Trotz became coach prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.

Video: Top 10 Mathew Barzal plays from 2019-20

2. Sorokin on the scene 

Ilya Sorokin is finally with the Islanders, six years after they selected him in the third round (No. 78) of the 2014 NHL Draft. The 25-year-old will be the No. 2 goalie behind Semyon Varlamov, but Trotz showed a preference to alternate starts last season between Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 10. With a condensed schedule this season, Sorokin likely will receive his fair share of starts and comes with a lot of hype after being one of the best goalies in the Kontinental Hockey League the past five seasons.

3. Pelech's health

The proof that Adam Pelech has evolved into a premier shutdown defenseman was on full display during the playoffs, and perhaps even more so when an Achilles injury forced him to miss the final 30 games of the regular season, when the Islanders went 10-13-7, including 0-3-4 in the seven games before the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. New York was 25-10-3 prior to Pelech's injury on Jan. 2. He returned for the postseason and averaged 22:26 of ice time per game in the Islanders' run to the conference final but missed their season-ending loss to the Lightning in Game 6 because of an undisclosed injury that required surgery. Pelech is expected to be ready for training camp, and his health will be crucial to New York's success.

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

There's at least one opening on the wing among the bottom six forwards, though unrestricted free agent Matt Martin could re-sign and continue to play on the fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. New York acquired Dmytro Timashov in a trade from Detroit on Dec. 11; the restricted free agent scored nine points (four goals, five assists) in 44 games last season for the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Austin Czarnik agreed to a two-year contract Oct. 13 and will compete for a spot.

Most intriguing addition

Sorokin got a taste of life in North America when he accompanied the Islanders to Toronto and Edmonton for the playoffs. Sorokin was 26-10-3 with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and nine shutouts in 40 games for CSKA Moscow last season. He was tied for second in wins, third in GAA and first in shutouts among KHL goalies to play at least 20 games. His 16 shutouts are the most in KHL playoff history.

Biggest potential surprise

Oliver Wahlstrom will get every chance to make the Islanders out of training camp after the 20-year-old scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 45 games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League last season. The big forward (6-foot-2, 211 pounds) did not have a point in nine NHL games.

Ready to break through

Noah Dobson will be a regular in the lineup after NHL salary cap constraints forced the Islanders to trade defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 12. Dobson, who turns 21 on Jan. 7, was limited to 34 games last season because of a logjam at defenseman. But with Toews traded and defenseman Johnny Boychuk  retiring because of an injury to his left eye, Dobson will have a chance to show why he was selected with the No. 12 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Video: 31 in 31: New York Islanders 2020-21 season preview

Fantasy sleeper

Left wing Anthony Beauvillier (undrafted on average in fantasy) was tied with linemate and center Brock Nelson for the Islanders lead in postseason goals (nine) and was second in postseason shots on goal (67) behind left wing Anders Lee (72). Beauvillier has captured a top-six role at even strength and could earn a spot on the first power-play unit this season, making him an intriguing late-round selection in standard leagues. -- Rob Reese

Projected lineup 

Anders Lee -- Mathew Barzal -- Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier -- Brock Nelson -- Josh Bailey

Michael Dal Colle -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Oliver Wahlstrom

Leo Komarov -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Nick Leddy -- Scott Mayfield

Thomas Hickey -- Noah Dobson

Semyon Varlamov

Ilya Sorokin

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