The Isles Need To Fix The Top Line

Despite the recent success of the New York Islanders, there is still a major hole that needs to be filled within the team’s lineup.

John Tavares and Kyle Okposo have been the undisputed top two forwards on this team for the past year. Currently, Tavares and Okposo are tied for the team lead in points with 24 each in 27 games played. However, the third member of the top line is not even close.

Nikolay Kulemin has posted five goals and seven assists for 12 points this year. It would not be fair to ignore the fact that Kulemin has not been playing on the top line all season, having spent time on the second and third lines as well.

But due to his impressive two-way play, Kulemin earned a spot on the top unit with the two best offensive weapons that Jack Capuano has on his bench.

With that said, Okposo has not scored a goal in 15 games, and Tavares hasn’t exactly been dominating the ice like he has in the past.

The fact that the team continues to win hockey games despite these two issues gives credit to this roster’s depth. But having a third member on the top line that possesses the same offensive capabilities will give this team a better chance to win on a more consistent basis.

Depth is important, but depth is exactly that – depth. Regardless of how deep a team’s offense can be, the top line has to be able to steal games and come through in clutch moments more often than not, and right now they are not.

If the Islanders continue to fight for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, perhaps GM Garth Snow will make a move at the trade deadline to improve his top line.

If he does not, other options may have to be considered instead of Kulemin.

Brock Nelson currently leads the Islanders in goals with 12 on the year and has been a huge success story thus far in his sophomore season. But Nelson has found excellent chemistry on a line with Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, and you would have to wonder if Capuano would really feel comfortable with splitting up that unit.

Michael Grabner recently returned to the line-up and scored his first goal of the season on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Grabner’s speed could be a huge asset to the top line. With Tavares’ ability to create offensive chances out of seemingly nothing and Okposo’s strength to win one-on-one battles along the wall, Grabner’s nifty footwork would be an excellent addition on the top line.

The only problem with Grabner is that he is a very streaky goal scorer. Everyone knows how often he’ll find himself on a breakaway, and unfortunately, everyone is also familiar with how often (or not often) he scores on these opportunities.

But using Grabner on the first line, who is also an excellent two-way forward like Kulemin, might be worth a shot.

Either way, the Islanders have to find a way to make their top line a threatening unit once again.

-Rob McGowan


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