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Veteran additions strengthen Islanders lineup

by Corey Masisak /

This has been the best offseason for the New York Islanders since they chose John Tavares with the top pick of the 2009 NHL Draft.

The Islanders filled major needs, improved their NHL-quality depth and still possess an assortment of prospects that could help fetch the last piece or two needed to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Goaltending has been an issue for years. If newcomers Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson provide nothing more than League-average work it would be an enormous upgrade. Frans Nielsen has been solid behind Tavares in the middle, but adding Mikhail Grabovski (and his pal Nikolai Kulemin) should make this the deepest group of forwards Tavares has been given the chance to play with.


Undervalued: Kyle Okposo -- The right wing missed the final 10 games of 2013-14 due to injury but finished 10th League-wide in even-strength points (54) and tied for fifth in multipoint games (21). He has room to improve on the power play, and playing alongside top-10 asset John Tavares should help. Don't be surprised if Okposo produces 70-plus points, 20-plus power-play points, 50-plus PIMs, and 220-plus shots on goal.

Overvalued: Frans Nielsen -- The Mikhail Grabovski signing indicates Nielsen will shift down to third-line center. Nielsen is coming off career-highs in goals (25), assists (33), power-play points (20) and shots (167) and should continue to see first-unit power-play action, but he's among a crowded group of forwards competing for those minutes. He's valuable in deep formats, but owners can expect him to dip below 50 points.

Sleeper: Brock Nelson -- Nelson, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee have late value at forward, considering each had a taste of the NHL last season and will be competing for top-six time. Nelson saw 14:15 per game in mostly a depth role during first NHL season, but he finished tied for sixth on the Islanders in points (26), with seven on the power play. If Nelson earns that coveted spot next to Tavares and Okposo, he could do some damage.

-- Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen

The defense corps remains a potential trouble area, but there are lots of young players who could seize larger roles, and adding another veteran or two on the blue line looks like an obvious move to complete a great summer for general manager Garth Snow.

This looks like a potential playoff team, and if things break right with the defense corps second place in the Metropolitan Division is a conceivable goal.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Islanders:


Brock Nelson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Michael Grabner - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Colin McDonald - Eric Boulton

Nelson seems like the most likely candidate to fit next to Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The Islanders have seven or eight players for the six spots on the second and third lines; where they all fit remains to be seen.

It makes sense to start with Grabovski and Kulemin together, and any one of Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, Cory Conacher or Anders Lee could end up next to them. In this scenario Nielsen becomes one of the best third-line centers in the East.

Coach Jack Capuano gave the Tavares line a ton of offensive zone starts last season, while the other groups were all about equal.


Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Lubomir Visnovsky - Thomas Hickey

Matt Donovan - Matt Carkner

Brian Strait

The Islanders finished last season 22nd in the NHL in Corsi for percentage at even strength (49.1%), but there was an uptick near the end of the season. A big reason for that was the trade of Andrew MacDonald to the Philadelphia Flyers in early March. MacDonald logged a ton of minutes for the Islanders, but he was also one of the worst possession anchors in the League and has been for a few seasons.

Fourteen Islanders skated at least 200 minutes with MacDonald at even strength last season. All 14 saw significant boosts in their CF% when apart from MacDonald. This group of defensemen might not be ready for a deep playoff run, but a full season without MacDonald (and Capuano's overreliance on him) is already an upgrade.

There are other options, including 2012 first-round pick Griffin Reinhart, though the Islanders have been extra patient with their high-end prospects for the past few years.


Jaroslav Halak

Chad Johnson

The Islanders finished last in the League last season with a save percentage of .894. That was the third straight season of sub-.900 goaltending on Long Island, and the franchise hasn't finished a season at better than .904 since 2006-07.

Halak has finished with a .910 save percentage or better in each of the five NHL seasons in which he's played more than 16 games. He's never played more than 57, and durability has been an issue. Johnson had a nice season as Tuukka Rask's backup in Boston, and Anton Khudobin proved in Carolina last season that goalies can leave Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara and still have success.

The NHL average save percentage last season was .914. The Islanders would be thrilled to be average in net. Had the Islanders finished with a .914 save percentage in 2013-14, they would have allowed 49 or 50 fewer goals.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Cory Conacher, F Anders Lee, D T.J. Brennan, D Kevin Czuczman, G Kevin Poulin


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