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Young Islanders realize it's time to win in playoffs

by Brian Compton continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Several NHL teams made headlines with significant roster changes this summer, particularly in the Metropolitan Division.

But the New York Islanders are going to have a very similar look when they begin their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks. It's a testament to the belief general manager Garth Snow has in the young core led by captain John Tavares, who will turn 25 during training camp.

Including Tavares, the Islanders could potentially have more than 10 players drafted by Snow since he began rebuilding them in 2008. And after a 101-point season that saw the Islanders fall two goals short of advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, several young players are expected to build off 2014-15.

"We have a lot of players that still have term on their contracts," Snow said. "We're looking for our younger players to take another step in the right direction, guys like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee … they're all good, young players that had quality seasons and they're just going to keep getting better."

Sparked by the acquisitions of defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk one week before the season began, the Islanders were on the verge of having home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs but stumbled down the stretch and finished third in the division. Defenseman Travis Hamonic sustained a torn MCL in the second-to-last game of the regular season, and the Islanders went on to lose a physical seven-game series against the Washington Capitals.

The Islanders haven't reached the second round of the playoffs since 1993, a hex Snow realizes must end this season.

"I think it's vital every year," Snow said. "We were disappointed that we lost a Game 7 against Washington. We have a great group of players in that room that are motivated to win a Stanley Cup, and I'm sure there are 29 other teams that are saying the same thing. We know we're in for a battle. It's a grind of a season for 82 games and just to make the playoffs is quite an accomplishment. Once you get in, anything can happen. We feel we have a team that can compete on a nightly basis.

"Two of the last three years, we've been in the playoffs. We lost a Game 6 two years back to Pittsburgh and lost a Game 7 to Washington last year. You hope that those experiences help a player grow, and that's what we're counting on."

The Islanders will begin a new chapter in their history this season; after 43 years at Nassau Coliseum, they are moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"The frustrating part was we had to leave Long Island," Snow said. "We're very fortunate and blessed as an organization, as a manager, as coaches, as players, as fans, to have a guy like Charles [Wang] who tried every avenue to get a building, a state-of-the-art facility in Nassau County. [But] Barclays Center is the next-best place to be. We're still in the area and we have a first-class facility. I know our players are looking forward to not having the worst building in the League."

Aside from a new backup goaltender (Thomas Greiss) and potentially a rookie or two (defenseman Ryan Pulock, left wing Michael Dal Colle), it will be the same group heading about 30 miles west. The players are perfectly OK with that.

"I think all the guys are happy we're kind of sticking with the same group," forward Josh Bailey told the Islanders website. "We wanted that. The guys we had last year, I think we had a good mix. We all get along really well. We all believe we can win together and we look forward to trying to do that this season."

They'll be led by Tavares, a Hart Trophy finalist for the second time in his career after having 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games. Many in the organization believe their captain has the capability of scoring 100 points this season, but they're just as awed by how he handles himself off the ice.

"He's one of the elite players in this league, for sure," Snow said. "We were very fortunate to win the lottery the year that we had the first overall pick. His hockey game speaks for itself. Anyone that watches him play realizes he's a special talent.

"But behind the scenes, the character that John is, it's probably the biggest attribute he's brought to our organization. He's a class act and a wonderful person. We're glad he's our captain."


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