Where does Zach Parise fit with Islanders should he return for 2023-24 season?

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Zach Parise Islanders Blue Jackets
Zach Parise (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The wait for Zach Parise’s decision about his future in the NHL has wandered throughout the entire summer as the New York Islanders remain patient with the veteran 39-year-old left-winger.

Following the 2022-23 season, which further proved that the Minnesota native still has plenty left in his skates after recording 21 goals while playing in all 82 games for a second-straight season, Parise admitted that this upcoming year will either be with the Islanders or he’ll announce his retirement

Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello exuded rare straightforwardness when asked about Parise in June, imploring that “we certainly want him back. We’ve told him that. We’ll encourage him any way we possibly can.”

In his two years with the Islanders, the former All-Star has embodied everything Lamoriello’s Islanders have been about since his arrival for the 2018-19 season. He’s a versatile forward who was a contributor in all three facets of the game: Even strength, the power play, and the penalty kill. 

While the door appears to still be open for his return back to Long Island should he want it, how would the Islanders accommodate him?

Islanders Hurricanes Parise
Carolina Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce (22) gathers the puck from New York Islanders’ Zach Parise (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, April 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Lamoriello fulfilled his top priorities this offseason by signing winger Pierre Engvall to a seven-year contract and avoiding free agency. He also retained winger Hudson Fasching — one of the biggest surprises of the Islanders’ 2022-23 season — to a two-year deal

Oliver Wahlstrom is back healthy and could legitimately challenge for a first-line spot and with the abundance of returning contributors, space already appears to be thin to slot Parise back into the lineup:

2023-24 Islanders projected forward lines (as of 9/4/23)

  1. Oliver Wahlstrom – Bo Horvat – Mathew Barzal
  2. Pierre Engvall – Brock Nelson – Kyle Palmieri
  3. Anders Lee – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Hudson Fasching
  4. Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck

Wahlstrom’s plus shot and developing physicality make him, for now, a favorite to join a skill line of Horvat and Barzal — the latter slotting over the right-wing spot after Horvat was acquired at the trade deadline. On the second line, Engvall’s partnership with Nelson and Palmieri was New York’s best trio down the stretch last year and should deserve ample time to continue building on the promise they showed. 

Pierre Engvall Islanders
New York Islanders left wing Pierre Engvall (18) celebrates his goal with center Brock Nelson (29) and center Kyle Palmieri (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game next to Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57), Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The third line, where Parise spent a sizable portion of his even-strength time, would see former first-liner Anders Lee flexed in alongside Pageau and Fasching. However, this is the line that could be in the most flux. Pageau’s name — alongside Wahlstrom — reportedly cropped up in trade talks earlier in the summer with the Ottawa Senators involving scoring winger Alex DeBrincat, who ultimately was sent to the Detroit Red Wings. 

Meanwhile, the ever-reliable fourth line of Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck which understandably is inching toward its end as the unstoppable march of time will always spark, could get one more go at it.

As it stands, there appears to be a backside for every seat on the forward lines, but a late-offseason special from Lamoriello in the form of a trade could ultimately shake the roster up and provide the space necessary for Parise to slot in for one more year. Granted, his decision to come back for a 19th season — which could very well be his last if he’s not done already — shouldn’t be the sole reason for a significant roster shakeup.

But the depth that he automatically provides should injuries happen — and they have been prevalent — becomes invaluable. And it’s something the Islanders have seriously lacked in recent years. 

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