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Islanders try to build on turnaround under Weight

Fast finish after midseason coaching change sparks optimism, though future of Tavares uncertain

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

The New York Islanders hope their second-half turnaround after Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano as coach on Jan. 17 carries into this season.

The Islanders were 24-12-4 under Weight after a 17-17-8 first half led to Capuano being fired. With Weight as coach from the start, they'll try to build on that success and return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the second wild card from the Eastern Conference by one point.

Center John Tavares is guaranteed to be Islanders captain for another season, but his future in New York is uncertain; the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft is not signed past this season and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

"I know Dougie wants to put his own type of stamp on it and the way he thinks the best approach is," Tavares said. "I know he's excited about that, to have this opportunity. When he was given the full-time tag, he wanted to do this the right way. He's 100 percent invested, so I think we're just all excited with his approach, his commitment, his determination to wanting to do something special this year."

Here is a look at the five keys for the Islanders, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season: 

 

5 KEYS

1. Two goaltenders

The decision to carry three goaltenders during the first half of last season created an awkward situation and ultimately led to Jaroslav Halak being waived and then demoted to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, where he stayed for three months. With Jean-Francois Berube gone (he was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft), the Islanders are back to a combination of Halak and Thomas Greiss. The two will be expected to push each other during the season, and the one who performs better will get the bulk of the starts.

"Thomas and Jaro are pros, they both deserve to be here," Weight said. "I have a tremendous amount of confidence when both those guys are in the net. They've come in good shape, they've got a good relationship. I'm not declaring one or the other. I'm going to try to get them both some action and get them comfortable and go from there. It'll work itself out."

Video: NYI@NYR: Greiss denies Vesey's wraparound attempt

 

2. Power play

The Islanders' power play struggled last season, finishing 28th in the NHL at 14.9 percent. Weight hired assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger and Scott Gomez to help it improve. The addition of forward Jordan Eberle in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers and the potential promotion of defenseman Ryan Pulock, who has a powerful slap shot, should give the power play a boost.

Video: EDM@COL: Eberle roofs nifty goal from the circle

 

3. Ho-Sang for full season

A first-round pick (No. 28) in the 2014 NHL Draft, forward Joshua Ho-Sang showed signs of maturation last season and earned a promotion from Bridgeport on March 1. He finished the season with the Islanders and had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 21 games. If he continues on this path, it's not impossible that Ho-Sang is in the conversation for the Calder Trophy.

Video: NYI@BUF: Ho-Sang finishes break with outstanding move

 

4. Better start from veterans

Forwards Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera struggled for much of the first half of their first season with the Islanders, which played a huge role in New York's slow start. Chimera finished with 20 goals despite scoring once in his first 20 games; Ladd had no goals in his first 12 games but finished with 23. Fully acclimated to their surroundings, they'll be expected to be better out of the gate.

Video: NYI@EDM: Ladd buries Nelson's fancy backhand pass

 

5. No distractions

Tavares knows the questions about his contract will be asked almost daily, but it's up to him and his teammates to focus on the task at hand. They've all said all right things during training camp, but they'll have to prove that Tavares' contract won't be a distraction once the regular season gets underway.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Tavares has been the Islanders' No. 1 center since he arrived for the start of the 2009-10 season and enters this season in the same role. The 27-year-old dealt with a thumb injury last season and had surgery after New York failed to qualify for the playoffs. Tavares will need to have a big season if the Islanders are going to return to the postseason.

Video: CBJ@NYI: Tavares wrists one in through traffic

 

Biggest battle

There is a vacancy among the top four defensemen after Travis Hamonic was traded to the Calgary Flames on June 24. Pulock, the Islanders' first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2013 NHL Draft, had the opportunity in training camp to finally become a full-time NHL player. But if he is unable to seize the job, young defensemen Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield will challenge.

"Obviously, Travis was a big piece here, played a lot of minutes," Pulock said. "With that spot opening up, someone has to fill that void. I think there's quite a few guys here fighting for those minutes, but personally I feel comfortable and confident that I can step in and be a contributor from the back end. That's what I'm looking to do here."

Video: NYR@NYI: Mayfield nets a quick slapper short side

 

Most intriguing addition

Eberle gives Tavares arguably the most skilled wing he's had the chance to play with in the NHL. The Islanders acquired Eberle, a five-time 20-goal scorer, from the Oilers in a trade for forward Ryan Strome on June 22. Eberle had his first experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and struggled (two assists in 13 games), but he provides the Islanders with another weapon up front.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Defenseman Devon Toews did not make the Islanders out of training camp, but the fourth-round pick (No. 108) from 2014 could be in New York before the end of the season. The 23-year-old is an outstanding skater and was an AHL All-Star with Bridgeport last season, when he had 45 points in 76 games.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Anders Lee -- John Tavares -- Jordan Eberle

Andrew Ladd -- Brock Nelson -- Joshua Ho-Sang

Anthony Beauvillier -- Mathew Barzal -- Josh Bailey

Jason Chimera -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy -- Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan -- Ryan Pulock

Thomas Hickey -- Adam Pelech

Jaroslav Halak

Thomas Greiss

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