Filling The Gap On The Top Line
As of now, the New York Islanders do not have a forward that is undeniably the top line winger to play alongside of Kyle Okposo and John Tavares. Last year, the Islanders started the season with Matt Moulson on JT’s wing, who was soon exchanged for Thomas Vanek.
Both Moulson and Vanek fit perfectly on the top line. But with Moulson staying in Buffalo and Vanek currently preparing to wear a Minnesota Wild jersey in 2015, the top spot is once again vacated.
Although GM Garth Snow signed both Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, it appears that both players will fit together on the second line. The two of them had chemistry together when playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and produce more accurately at a second line level when playing at their best.
Offensive depth is a crucial key to success during the regular season, and it is great that Snow shored up his top-six with these signings. But neither player is expected to replace Moulson or Vanek.
Many are predicting Brock Nelson to have the first shot at playing on the top line. When Vanek was injured, Nelson spent some time as a member of the top-trio and did not look out of place. However, he did not look like Thomas Vanek either. In all fairness to Brock, he was just coming into his own as a rookie last year and may see increased success during his sophomore season if given the opportunity to play again on that line.
Ryan Strome may also have a chance to play on the top line with Tavares, a move that has been discussed for quite some time now. But Jack Capuano would have to carefully consider moving Strome off of a line with Anders Lee, as the two were able to effectively transition their chemistry with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to the NHL level.
Strome may be moved to wing on the third line with Frans Nielsen, with Lee providing the size needed for both of those playmakers to create some space and generate scoring chances.
It is also possible that Snow may still find another top-line candidate on the trade market, but one would have to assume that Snow’s efforts are currently being spent on landing a top-four defenseman since that move has not yet been addressed.
The top-line fix will likely come from within. Although it is open for applications, it is clear that Capuano has plenty of options when it comes to arranging his forward lines.