EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Noah Dobson has seen a sizable boost in ice time and responsibilities on the New York Islanders’ blue line this season.
The 23-year-old defenseman ranks seventh in the NHL with an average of 24:53 per game entering Monday night’s clash with the Detroit Red Wings at UBS Arena. That’s four-and-a-half minutes more than he averaged last season.
“That’s what you want, right?” Dobson told amNewYork. “I’ll never complain about playing too much. I feel like I had a really good summer and I’m in really good shape.”
Granted, this move is coming more out of necessity. With Scott Mayfield sidelined, Dobson has had to pick up the slack on the penalty kill, which has added to his duties as the Islanders’ anchor on the right side of the top defensive unit alongside Adam Pelech quarterback on the first power-play unit.
Mayfield’s injury has accelerated the process of getting Dobson onto the penalty kill — something that he hoped during preseason would be an aspect of the game slowly worked into his rotation. After averaging just 27 seconds of shorthanded time per game last season, Dobson has averaged 1:47 of shorthanded time this season.
“I feel pretty solid [on the penalty kill],” Dobson said. “It’s something I’ve kind of done here and there in the past and I’ve always felt comfortable doing it. At times there are still moments where you’re learning a little bit… I also feel like I’ve been surrounded by guys my whole time here who have been good penalty-killers, like Andy Greene, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara, obviously. I’ve watched on the bench those guys do it for a long time so I’ve picked up a lot from them.”
Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has gotten a front seat to the 23-year-old’s development within the shorthanded game. As an assistant under former head coach Barry Trotz, Lambert spent considerable time with Dobson on the penalty kill at practice when he first arrived on the team seeing as he wasn’t on the power play yet.
“For him to step in and do the job isn’t surprising to me,” Lambert said. “He’s a smart player and what he’s done and will continue to do is raise and elevate his game and continue to grow and get better.”
On Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators in which the Islanders committed nine penalties, Dobson played a career-high 27:42 while also netting the game-winning goal and an assist in the 3-2 victory.
“It’s circumstantial. If you’re playing the right side, all guys could play 20 minutes a night if needed,” Dobson said. “Obviously we’re missing a guy right now but it’s been good. At times you get stuck out there for a long shift, which can make it difficult, so I think you just have to be smart with it. You can’t be extending your shifts and being stuck out there for 1:30 because then it lingers into the next one.
“I’ve enjoyed playing a lot. It builds your confidence when you’re going every shift. You find a rhythm.”
So far the rhythm that Dobson is in is creating a sweet tune for the Islanders. He’s averaging a point per game entering Monday’s play with two goals and five assists with a plus-2 rating. New York hasn’t had a defenseman average a point per game or better since the legendary Denis Potvin — he eclipsed this mark four times in his Hall-of-Fame career — did so in 1983-84 when he posted 85 points.
But that doesn’t come if Dobson doesn’t earn the ice time that he’s stepped into — the offensive stats on his ledger being more of a consolation prize than anything.
“You always want to have that trust from your coaches, which is earned, not given,” he said. “I just want to show that I can be responsible in all areas where you’re almost forcing their hand to play in all situations rather than just being OK with going out there in the offensive zone or the power play. That’s always something I’ve been working toward — to be a complete player that’s trusted to play in all situations. I feel like I can continue to grow and keep getting better.”