Once again, the largest question mark surrounding the New York Islanders heading into the 2021-22 season will be whether or not they have the necessary offensive firepower to supplement a championship-caliber defense — thus finally putting them over the top and into the Stanley Cup Final rather than a semifinal stage they’ve crashed out of in each of the last two campaigns.
While the offseason began with the appeal of bringing on a high-end sniper, the Lou Lamoriello went with what he knew, retaining Kyle Palmieri amidst a salary-cap crunch after acquiring him from the New Jersey Devils back in April.
The 30-year-old Long Island native has the track record to add a scoring punch to a team that’s been ranked in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference in scoring in each of the last three seasons. Palmieri averaged 26 goals per game from 2016-2020.
Now, he’s expected to be featured on the Islanders’ first line alongside center Mathew Barzal and left-winger Anders Lee, who is returning from an ACL injury that ended his 2021 season back in March.
“We’ve had a chance to work together in camp, get your reps in practice,” Palmieri said of working on the first line. “To get it in game situations, it’s felt good and we’ve gotten good looks and hopefully, that continues to grow.
“We’d like to be a line that’s contributing every night and staying defensively responsible. That’s a big part of our game as a team. Up and down our lineup, every line can contribute on both ends of the ice. As a line, that’s what we’re looking to do and looking to get off to a good start.”
Both Lee and Palmieri possess the capability of flirting with 30 goals, though they come in different styles. The captain, Lee, sets his office up near the goal, often capitalizing on second chances and loose pucks. Palmieri is more of a hybrid, injecting more creativity while still being able to play a hard-nosed style similar to Lee’s.
As for Barzal, he’ll be the engine that makes everything click; providing a finesse brand of playmaking that will open up opportunities for his wingers.
“I think it can be a handful. It has all of the elements,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told me. “You have a dynamic person with [Barzal], you have a top shooter in Palmieri who will go to those hard areas. He’s a shooter. Then you have Anders Lee who is a mass of a man, who heads to the net, who wins puck battles, loose pucks, creates those hard matchups for the defense down low.
“It could be a really good line. They’re capable off the rush and they’re very capable and dangerous in their zone.”