The acquisition of Bo Horvat appears to have addressed one of the overarching needs for Islanders lines that had been so desperate for a scoring boost.
The 27-year-old is in the midst of a career year, scoring 31 goals in 49 games and providing an immediate first-line center option given his playmaking prowess and his skillset in the face-off circle. It allows Mathew Barzal to potentially flex out to the wing and find a legitimate, stable linemate that he’s been devoid of for much of the last three seasons.
But how would the rest of the Islanders’ lineup look? We built this tentative forward unit under the current status of the team which included injuries to Hudson Fasching, Cal Clutterbuck, and Oliver Wahlstrom:
Tentative Islanders lines after Bo Horvat deal
1st line: Mathew Barzal – Bo Horvat – Kyle Palmieri
Horvat has a 56% win rate in the face-off circle this season to go with his 31 goals, so there’s little chance the Islanders would think about trying to switch positions — especially if they want to work out a long-term deal with him. This would allow Barzal to move to the left wing as a right-handed shot to provide a play-making presence down the flank.
As the first line should be the team’s best line, we put Kyle Palmieri back up on the right wing, moving him up from the highly successful second unit in which he thrived alongside Anders Lee and Brock Nelson for four games (five assists) after coming back from an injury that held him out for 27 of 28 contests.
2nd line: Anders Lee – Brock Nelson – Casey Cizikas
Moving Palmieri up to the first line brings about the first example of just how thin the Islanders’ forward ranks currently stand after trading away Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty. The long-time fourth-line center Cizikas has moonlighted recently as a first-line right-winger for the Islanders, bringing his trademark speed and tenacity to the top-six.
The problem is that the production just hasn’t been there. He doesn’t have a point in his last seven games — but he’s still a more dynamic option at this time than the veteran Josh Bailey, who had been demoted to the fourth line just before the All-Star break. Lee and Nelson, who each have 19 goals this season, could help Cizikas rediscover his attacking touch.
3rd line: Zach Parise – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Simon Holmstrom
Zach Parise and Jean-Gabriel Pageau have remained near-perfect candidates for the Islanders’ third line this season. Both possess offensive flair with the core mechanics to institute defensive play when necessary. Simon Holmstrom becomes the logical option in this scenario given his strong two-way play that started to come back around after returning from a knee injury suffered on Dec. 23. Again, the issue is production. He has just two goals and one assist in 24 games this season.
4th line: Matt Martin – Josh Bailey – Ross Johnston
What used to be the steady constant of the Islander is now completely in flux. Matt Martin remains on the left wing but with no other legitimate forwards available, Bailey is moved back to the center position where he played earlier in his career to make room for Ross Johnston. Head coach Lane Lambert has practically done everything he possibly could to not put Johnston in the lineup this season but there’s no other choice here unless they decide to give William Dufour another shot.
The Islanders have the goaltending to make the playoffs and with Adam Pelech back in the fold, their defense is in decent shape — although a move before the trade deadline to get a more established No. 6 option certainly wouldn’t hurt.
It’s ultimately going to come down to their offense and its ability to score goals. Horvat has undoubtedly helped the Islanders’ top unit look more imposing on paper, but another deal for a top-six winger — even if it’s just a sniper that’s a rental — it gives Lambert the flexibility to flex Cizikas back to his normal spot on the fourth line and move Bailey to the wing. That way the organization isn’t putting all its proverbial eggs in the basket of hoping Fasching can be the difference-maker upon his return or that Wahlstrom or Clutterbuck can even make it back this season.