Islanders 1st-line LW spot appears to be coming down to Anders Lee, Simon Holmstrom

Islanders Hurricanes Anders Lee
Carolina Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce (22) battles with New York Islanders’ Anders Lee (27) during the third period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Two-thirds of the Islanders’ first line has been set since Bo Horvat was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in January. It’s the third and final spot on the left wing that’s proving to be tricky. 

Horvat and Mathew Barzal, who is moving from center to right wing full time this season, have been inseparable since Horvat’s arrival — and the two have been on the ice together for every practice, skate, and exhibition so far throughout the preseason. 

The left side, however, has proved problematic. 

Simon Holmstrom has been given a bulk of the looks on the first line, though the 22-year-old scored just six goals in 50 games last season and has had issues hitting the net. Oliver Wahlstrom, who was perceived to be a leading candidate for the spot heading into training camp, has struggled in his first action back from a knee injury that ended his 2022-23 season in December and held him away from any hockey activities for seven months. 

Anders Lee has also cycled his way back onto the first line — a spot the captain is familiar with — where he started for the Islanders’ Oct. 2 preseason game in New Jersey against the Devils.

“It’s a matter of getting reps and getting games in,” Horvat told amNewYork. “I think [Holmstrom’s] been great, we’re already familiar with Lee. No matter who they put in there, it’s going to be great. [Barzal’s] playmaking ability and skill speaks for itself. Whoever they find is the best fit there, I think it’s going to work out in the end. But right now, working with Holmstrom has been great.”

Simon Holmstrom Islanders
Simon Holmström (Photo courtesy of Stefen Rosner/The Hockey News)

Between the regular season and the playoffs, Lee played alongside Horvat and Barzal for a total of 64 minutes, but they accounted for just three goals. Holmstrom is a natural right winger who would have to play on his off-wing should he join Horvat and Barzal, so this is his first time working with New York’s top duo. Although, he played just over 60 minutes last season flanking Barzal.

“[An ideal winger[ is someone that’s going to play well on both ends of the rink, someone who’s responsible defensively but also can make plays at the right time in the offensive zone,” Horvat said. “He has to make plays and drive the offense that way. Somebody to go and get them the puck. I obviously want to be that player, but to have two of them would be ideal.”

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com