The Isles' New Top Line Winger
The New York Islanders once again will be looking for a new winger on the top line to play with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. It has been a continuous up and down process that has seen several players come and go, and new faces will be looking to fill that void once again as the 2013-2014 season approaches (birdgetds/Flickr).
Moulson and Tavares found chemistry from the very beginning, as they were long-time friends prior to joining the Islanders line-up. But finding a third member to join their two-man wolf pack hasn't been an easy solution.
P.A. Parenteau, who was arguably the best fit on that line, was let go to free agency two seasons ago. Despite a season that saw him score 18 goals, 49 assists and 67 points, Parenteau was deemed expendable since he was seeking a long-term contract after only one season worthy of top-line recognition. However, he had an outstanding year with the Colorado Avalanche, tying his high of 18 goals once again (this time in only 48 games played) along with 25 assists and 43 points.
Brad Boyes was signed to replace Parenteau. Although he had a much improved season over his last with the Buffalo Sabres, his 35 points did not come close to the production that the trio used to provide in previous years. And, despite the decent numbers, he didn't seem to ever find the chemistry that Parenteau had with Moulson and Tavares.
Therefore Boyes was let go to free agency as well. Leaving the Isles with a major hole to fill.
In comes Pierre-Marc Bouchard, one of the team's newest signings after the start of free agency. Bouchard has played his entire career Minnesota Wild up until this point. He has formerly put up between 40-50 assists and has been on pace for 50-60 point seasons in recent years as well. The only problem is that he has had difficulty with remaining healthy over the course of a season.
Last year was the closest he came, playing in 43 of 48 games, but he only managed to put up 20 points. It's possible that playing with Tavares might help him regain that 50-60 point form, if he stays healthy over an 82 game season.
If Bouchard doesn't click well on the top unit, the coaching staff might wish to take a look at Ryan Strome. He might be a natural center, but the coaching staff has already been considering him on the wing, most likely in the hopes of him gaining some chemistry with Tavares and Moulson. Whether that would be tested right away or down the line in the season remains to be seen. Training camp will certainly determine a lot.
Strome absolutely has the potential to be a first line player with his hands and skill set. He put up 94 points last year with the Niagara Ice Dogs in only 53 games played. He had a 10 game stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last year and tallied two goals, five assists and seven points.
Management may decide to start him in the minors to make sure they do not rush him to quickly to the NHL, but don't be surprised if Strome forces the coaching staff to inject him into the Isles line-up on opening night. He stood out far and away as the best player during the Isles' prospect camp and clearly has the offensive weaponry to be a top-six threat.
Bouchard might be a stop-gap for the next year, but Strome will most likely be looked upon as the long-term solution.
Another potential candidate is Josh Bailey, who is coming fresh off his new five-year contract extension with the Islanders. Bailey, who has struggled to consistently provide offense throughout his career, earned his extension after he proved (for about the third time or so) that he can score when playing on the wing and not at center.
If he can hone his play-making abilities and maintain them over a full season, Bailey could potentially make a few cameos on the top line. He has been seen playing with Tavares during four-on-four situations and was even used on his line during the playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Head coach Jack Capuano might have seen something that he liked between those two and may look to see if Bailey fits on that line at the start of the year.
The biggest positive to be taken away from this situation is that the Islanders have plenty of options to try out on the top line. Yet the biggest concern is finding the right fit and creating chemistry among all three players, and not just Tavares and Moulson.