Beyond The Blue Horizon Waits A Beautiful Day – Hit song written during the Great Depression)
A housecleaning that removed an entire general staff with established winners and a group of young, skilled virtuosos has infused the franchise with a rare effervescence.
No one, from the leadership corps including Johnny Boychuk, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, is bothering to look in the rear view mirror when so much about the new deal promises beautiful nights and days ahead.
ENTHUSED is the club’s byword, translated to the ice by such a gifted, young ice genius as Mathew Barzal.
The Calder Trophy-winner will be ably abetted by his buddy-in-arms Anthony Beauvillier; a one-two combo that pleased fans last year.
Granted, this is not an easy transition and the point was underlined by coach Trotz who is making it evident that it’s going to be his championship way or the highway to Bridgeport for those who don’t get it.
“I don’t think there was a guy on the team who thought this would be easy,” said Trotz at the start of camp. “It’s a learning process and they’ve got to be willing to work and learn accountability. We’re in a partnership.”
His shock troops — enthusiastically learning the new system — have sweated in agreement.
“We got a lot of work to do,” said Lee, coming off a career year and looking more like a team leader every day.
No less vital elements include smart, puck-moving Swiss defenseman Yannick Rathgeb and vet goalie Robin Lehner.
GOALTENDING: Thomas Greiss will get one more shot at the starting job, but he could be ousted by Lehner, especially if the latter regains his top form. Kurt Kleinendorst, who coached Lehner when Robin led Binghamton to a Calder Cup, believes Lehner has No. 1 goalie written all over him.
Let’s not forget that Greiss was aces in 2015-16 and reached a second playoff round. With highly-successful goalie coaches, Piero Greco and Mitch Korn, both in the fold, the Isles could wind up with a genuine top banana between the pipes and a terrific 1A. Chris Gibson, who enjoyed a few winning moments last season, waits in the wings.
DEFENSE: If ever a team needs improvement, it’s the Isles at the blue line. But that’s ancient history for Trotz. He will be confronted with repairing the lack of structure in all three zones. The new mentor will start with two-way Nick Leddy who inevitably will flourish under the Trotz Order and Nick’s buddy, Boychuk, felled by injury last year.
Ryan (On The Rise) Pulock and underrated Thomas Hickey have the goods along with Adam Pelech, each of whom will improve under Trotz. Looking good — buy only in spots last semester — Sebastian Aho and Scott Mayfield will be given every opportunity to make the varsity. Ditto, Devon Toews, Rathgeb and Mitch Vande Sompel.
OFFENSE: With John Tavares having exiled himself to Toronto, Trotz creatively will re-create an assault force centered around Barzal.
The likelihood is that the Rookie of the Year will pivot between Lee and Bailey, the latter coming off his career season.
Josh Bailey gives the Islanders a 2-1 lead on the power play after a great set up from Josh Bailey in the second period against the Rangers.
A likely experiment would have Beauvillier moving to the center position on the second line incorporating Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson. The re-acquisition of Martin — working with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas — gifts Trotz with what guru Don Cherry labeled “The NHL’s best fourth line.”
In some ways, Trotz’s third line could be most decisive; one way or another. New faces such as Kovar, Kuhnhacki, Komarov and Filpulla all could find themselves vying for spots on a two-way unit. Last but not least — depending on his ability to go along with Trotz — is enigmatic Josh Ho-Sang, who claims he understands what’s needed from him but we’ll see about that.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There was nothing special about the club’s penalty-killing other than it was the NHL’s worst. The likes of Komarov and Filpulla will cure that ailment. Sixth-ranked last season, the power play will significantly be revised. Barzal — not bad at face-offs — will be the man while Pulock’s point shot, or Boychuk’s, could mitigate any problems from last season
INTANGIBLES: Intensifying the Isles work ethic tops Trotz’s agenda. Discussing a training camp pep talk and drill, he observed, “There were more life lessons than there was necessarily a systematic approach.” The coach and his boss are on the same page instituting “Lou Discipline,” which has reverberated through the franchise. Believe it or not, good grooming and low jersey numbers are all part of it. Any dissenters can tune in to Louis Jordan’s tune, “I Told You I Love You Now Get Out.”
ROOKIES: The Hockey News believes that defense prospect Toews would have been in The Show last season had he not been injured. Toews now has a shot at being a “depth defender.” Apart from Toews, rookie prospects are extensive. They include Kieffer Bellows, Bode Wilde, not to mention impressive 2018 draftees, winger Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson. “Wahlstrom’s calling card is a lethal shot,” notes The Hockey News. “It’s NHL caliber.”
Islanders first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom talks about being at the team's Prospects Camp and the feeling to have an NHL logo on his jersey.
X-FACTOR: Since “culture” is hockey’s latest buzzword, it certainly applies to the Islanders where “culture shock” best described the reaction going from the laissez-faire attitude of the previous general staff compared to Lamoriello-Trotz.
Lou has the “Do what’s right and do it now” philosophy while Barry owns the winning game plan; as amply demonstrated in the 2018 playoffs.
THE BRASS: Co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky wasted no time nabbing the best possible general manager and Cup-winning coach. They’ve given Lou the mandate to run the show and Lamoriello came up with one of the best drafts among the 30 other clubs. “Malkin and Ledecky gained instant respect around the league,” The Hockey News asserted in its annual Yearbook and The Maven agrees.
A FAN’S VIEW: “The Isles will surprise and make the playoffs with the structure supplied by Barry Trotz and with the youth movement in place. Goaltending will be strong from Lehner and Greiss. But Lehner really is the key.” – Simon Fischler (my son), Golan Heights, Israel.
PREDICTION: “My job is to make everyone better,” said Trotz at the start of training camp. If he can make that happen with the likes of Nelson, Lehner, Ladd and possibly Ho-Sang down the line, the Islanders will make the playoffs.
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