Moving Forward: The Isles Will Have Decisions To Make

The Islanders might not have signed any additional forwards (aside from Kirill Petrov) this off-season, but there is certainly going to be a log jam at that position as the organization prepares for training camp.

You have your obvious two on the top line between Kyle Okposo and John Tavares. The third member of that line remains to be seen, a problem that has lingered since last season and must be remedied this year.

For those who don’t remember, those two saw Brock Nelson, Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and Nikolay Kulemin see time on that line. It’s possible more players rode that carousel over the course of the year (if my memory serves me right, Michael Grabner got a shot as well), but as you can see, who can blame me for forgetting since half the forwards on that roster got a shot?

Despite the ever changing third forward, Tavares still racked up 86 points in 82 games, earning MVP honors. Okposo scored 51 points in 60 games, mostly with only one fully functional eye.

Could you imagine what these two could’ve done with a consistent top line winger?

If and when Jack Capuano decides who will play that role for the Islanders, he will still have his work cut out for him with the remaining three lines.

For arguments sake, let’s say that Ryan Strome will get a chance to play on that top line. I am not saying he deserves it, nor am I predicting that it’s his spot to lose. I’m just going to use him there for the sake of predicting the rest of the lines.

Strome-Tavares-Okposo

Lee-Nelson/Nielsen-Grabner

Kulemin-Grabovski-Bailey

Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

Petrov

Dal Colle

The Islanders have an abundance of centers, which isn’t a bad thing, especially when you consider that Frans Nielsen is entering the final year of his contract.

So is Michael Grabner for that matter. Although he is not a center, you have to wonder where Garth Snow sees the oft-injured and declining forward fitting with his hockey club down the line. Grabner may be deemed expendable, unless he has a superb contract year.

Nielsen, on the other hand, has quietly been a reliable two-way center year after year. You would have to expect that Nielsen will be a deadlock to start up the middle on the second or third line. But then where does Nelson fit? Injuries are likely to occur, especially to Grabovski, who struggled to stay healthy last season. This will ultimately open up some breathing room, but Capuano cannot start the season with the assumption that his centers are going to get hurt.

Bailey is also a natural center, but has been used in various different spots on this team. Although he will have wingers Michael Dal Colle and Kirill Petrov competing against him for a spot on the wing, it’s likely that Capuano will continue to use Bailey’s veteran presence in the lineup.

The real wild card in this scenario is Petrov. He will be entering the NHL as a 25-year old rookie. Petrov hasn’t exactly recorded any jaw dropping numbers while playing in Russia and will have to adjust to the North American style of play. But he possesses the size and skill to be an effective forward with the Islanders.  

But speaking of Dal Colle, the 19-year old winger posted 93 points in only 56 games with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. This is his second 90+ point season in a row, and Snow has already said that he has no problem giving him a nine-game stint with the Islanders if he impresses in camp. If he exceeds expectations, we could very well see Dal Colle play on the top line with Tavares and Okposo.

The luxury with Dal Colle is that the Islanders can elect to wait one more year before truly giving him a look with the big club without hampering his development – although it’s starting to look like there is little left for him to prove at the Junior level.

If Dal Colle doesn’t kick it with the Islanders long enough to make an impact, Capuano will still have 14 forwards to work with.

Injuries will take place, and having that extra forward or two isn’t a bad thing. But deciding where everyone fits, the role that each player will play, is another thing.

Right now, discovering who will be the Islanders’ top line winger to play with Tavares and Okposo is the mystery, and should be the coaching staff’s number one priority.

-Rob McGowan

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