What version of the New York Islanders are we going to see in 2022-23?
Entering a new season, the external variables of Lou Lamoriello’s experiment are all but muted. COVID isn’t nearly the threat it has been, the team is relatively healthy, and their roots are set down in their new home at UBS Arena — which will be ready to use for the season’s puck drop on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers rather than a month into the season like last year.
Those variables were continuously pointed to as the ultimate reason why the Islanders — who made Stanley Cup semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021 — missed the playoffs in 2022.
Now New York returns with a largely unchanged roster and a new head coach as Lane Lambert takes over for his long-time mentor Barry Trotz, who was surprisingly fired back in May.
No big signings, no franchise-altering trades, just the doubling-down from Lamoriello that the team he put together three years ago can return to a higher perch amongst the Eastern Conference standings.
This season will finally provide the answer to the question of whether he was right all along about this team or if a major re-tooling is on the very-near horizon.
2022-23 Islanders preview: Offense
1st Line: Anders Lee – Brock Nelson – Anthony Beauvillier
Nelson is coming off a career season in which he potted 37 goals, proving to be the Islanders’ best scoring threat of the season. He’ll be paired with captain Lee, who is fully healthy and holds the capability of posting 30-plus goals of his own. They put on an enticing preview back in March when they worked on the same line — Nelson scoring 13 goals while Lee added 11. The hope is that some of that scoring success will rub off on Beauvillier, who has shown flashes of being a consistent 20-to-25-goal scorer but has yet to reach such potential.
2nd Line: Zach Parise – Mathew Barzal – Kyle Palmieri
What initially was going to be an offseason that found Barzal — who signed an eight-year deal earlier this month — a high-scoring winger ended with the same group he ended last season with. The trio has maintained that they are comfortable playing together, and they certainly showed signs of jelling down the stretch. Barzal is a playmaking extraordinaire that could get Palmieri back to a near-30-goal-scoring range. As for Parise, he starred down the stretch in his first year with the Islanders after a difficult one-goal-in-33-games skid.
3rd Line: Josh Bailey – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom/Kieffer Bellows/Nikita Soshnikov
This will be a different role for Bailey, who will be playing his 1,000th game with the Islanders this season. No longer will he be tasked with trying to fill a top-six role. Instead, he’ll try to facilitate a line that will need Pageau to score over 20 goals while nurturing a combination of young/inexperienced right-wingers in either Wahlstrom, Bellows, or Soshnikov. That right-wing spot is up for grabs for the time being.
4th Line: Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
The identity line has been ol’ reliable for years and has an opportunity to have their influence felt even more in a new system under Lambert that calls for a more aggressive forecheck and influence from the defense. It remains to be seen, though, when they’ll get Clutterbuck back as he was placed on IR retroactive Sept. 26. In the meantime, Soshnikov is expected to fill in.
2022-23 Islanders preview: Defense
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
Pelech is one of the top defensive defensemen in the NHL where he’ll be complemented by the hard-shooting Pulock who is one of the candidates for quarterbacking the power play
Alexander Romanov – Noah Dobson
Dobson is projected to take the next step in his promising career after a 50-point season last year. He has a new partner in the Islanders’ big acquisition of the offseason in Romanov — a fast-skating, hard-hitting blue liner who is developing his game to fit the Islanders’ system.
Robin Salo – Scott Mayfield
Salo gets the nod for his first full season in the NHL as one of the Islanders’ top prospects. He’ll be able to find his bearings alongside Mayfield, who provides a blend of aggression on both sides of the ice to anchor the third pairing.
2022-23 Islanders preview: Goaltenders
This is Sorokin’s show now — and expectations should be high enough to include talks of the Vezina Trophy race. The 27-year-old posted a .925 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average, and seven shutouts last season with Semyon Varlamov dealing with injury.
More than a capable No. 2 netminder, Varlamov creates one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. A 2021-22 season riddled with injuries led to his worst statistical campaign as an Islander. At 34 years old and in the last year of his contract, he could also become trade bait come January.