Islanders Preview: Yes! Yes! Yes! to Playoffs

“Who needs John Tavares?”

You won’t hear any Islanders fan uttering those sacrilegious words on Friday night when the Brooklynites open on the road against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

[Coverage of the Islanders Season-Opener Starts Friday at 6:30 PM on MSG-Plus and MSG GO]

That’s for sure because JT remains THE man — but he has some awfully compelling new helpers.

The infusion of two galloping graduates from minor hockey certainly should take scoring pressure off Cap’n John and while they’re at it push head coach Doug Weight‘s sextet into the playoffs.

Those Whiz Kids, Josh Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal, may not be the second coming of Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier,  but they have Gold Dust Twins written all over them.

“Each of them has the playmaking ability and vision to make big plays,” said Weight. “They are ‘distributors’ and will find the open man.”

In 21 pulsating games late last season, Ho-Sang provided a preview of coming attractions for 2017-18. During his September training camp and exhibitions, he skated like a jackrabbit, magnetizing all eyes on every shift.

Barzal, who was overlooked last fall, has been displaying an array of skills and speed that proved he deserved to be plucked 16th overall in the 2015 Draft.

With Tavares set to center for Anders Lee and gifted newcomer Jordan Eberle, Weight’s offensive armory is rounded out by the kids plus a third unit featuring Andrew Ladd with Jason Chimera.

For checking purposes, fourth-liners Cal Clutterbuck, Nikolay Kulemin and Casey Cizikas comprise one of the best units of its kind in the league. Keep your eye on Kulemin for a career year.

Hey, we’re not talking about the perfect hockey club and defense looms as a questionable commodity now that Travis Hamonic has become a distant memory. But there remain a surplus of assets to encourage every Islander fan.

“I’m really looking forward to this season,” enthused Tavares and seconded by a re-energized lineup.

Another key here — especially for The Captain, who loves playing for Doug — is that the Brooklynites open their season with Weight as head coach from the get-go.

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The infusion of Eberle on Tavares’ right side is a season-changer. It also should turn Lee into a 40-goal scorer, following 34 red lights last season.

Josh Bailey should follow his career year (13-43-56) with another productive campaign. Bailey conceivably could be paired with a number of possibilities on either the second or third line.

The trick will be deciding whether to put Bailey on the left side with Ho-Sang on the right and dazzling Barzal in the middle. Bailey would be a perfect counselor for the kids.

Which brings us to the enigmatic Brock Nelson. Coming off three straight 20-goal seasons, Nelson nevertheless is in a make-or-break year.

That means he must evolve into a dependable two-way player on a consistent basis. No more on-again-off-again weeks for Brock.

The abundance of offensive talent is underlined by the returns of 23-goal-man Ladd — he came on strong late last season — as well as Chimera who enjoyed another 20-goal season.

That leaves fast-maturing young Anthony Beauvillier to scrap for a roster spot. The French-Canadian speedster is totally fearless and promised The Maven he’s going to be a greater asset the second time around.

When one rounds out the offense with the reliable Cizikas-Kulemin-Clutterbuck trio, Weight’s attacking units provide balance and match well with most in the league.


No question, there are many questions challenging the Isles’ blueliners. It begins with replacing Travis Hamonic and getting one of three young D-men — Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock — to seize the moment.

Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will anchor the D with the best in Leddy yet to come. Calvin de Haan — the club’s best backliner last year — will replace Hamonic and could be paired with Dennis Seidenberg who led the club with a +25 rating.

That leaves Thomas Hickey, looking to bounce back from a rough last season. Then again, don’t be surprised if 23-year-old prospect Devon Toews squeezes into the roster. My money’s on Pelech to gain a spot on the second pairing.


A year ago, the triumvirate of Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, and J-F Berube created some headaches. Sending Berube bye-bye was addition by subtraction.

Jaro and Tommy blend as well as cream and coffee, and figure to be at their best no matter which one is Number One and which is One-A. Ergo; netminding is not a problem as it was last year.


Weight went everywhere to bolster his team. He hired reliable Luke Richardson to fortify the defense, while Kelly Buchberger and Scott Gomez will orchestrate the Power Play, Penalty Kill and assorted other assignments.

Gomez, in particular, will focus on shaping up the Millennials such as Ho-Sang, Barzal and Beauvillier. Gomer is a most creative add; as time will tell.


Since Tavares remains unsigned, the Captain will be assailed by out of town newsmen wherever he goes. No big deal since Johnny knows how to deal with the press.


Ho-Sang is as gifted as he is electrifying. But, then again, Barzal — an elite level skater with a lot of quickness — also could be a Calder Memorial Trophy Candidate.


To make the playoffs, the Isles will need their youngsters to break out, big-time. Plus, Nelson must lift his game a notch while Eberle will have to be the perfect compliment for Captain John.


After six seasons as an assistant coach, Weight has learned which winning buttons to push. The Isles were energized when he took over last spring and he’s since earned the respect of every player in the room.


Away from the rink, co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin quietly are re-shaping the team and its modus operandi. They have supported GM Garth Snow, providing him with a solid high general staff from top to bottom.


The Islanders will make the playoffs. ‘Nuff said!

[Coverage of the Islanders Season-Opener Starts Friday at 6:30 PM on MSG-Plus and MSG GO]