The New York Islanders’ quiet offseason has officially ended. The Islanders have a long road ahead of them if they want to finally capture the Eastern Conference title that has evaded them over the past three seasons. Expectations are high, with some pundits predicting the Islanders to be the team to beat in the East this year. The Islanders will need their scoring depth to improve and hope the mix of new additions can do that. With a considerably deeper roster this season, let’s react to the first day of training camp.
The best story out of camp on day one has to be that Lee looks healthy. When he tore his ACL in March, the Islanders took a noticeable blow in offensive production. Matt Barzal and Jordan Eberle’s numbers dropped off after Lee’s injury and never recovered. Barry Trotz rotated numerous players through the top line based on game situations. For much of the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Trotz played Leo Komarov. Komarov is an enforcer and only chalked up 3 points in 19 playoff games.
Lee will undoubtedly have a bounce-back year on the top line. Lee’s role on offense is to position himself in front of the net and redirect shots on goal. He has the strength and skill to thrive in that role, plus adds the element of screening the opposing goaltender. What interests me is who replaces Eberle on that top line. Zach Parise or Oliver Wahlstrom may be perfect fits because of the amount shots they take. The more pucks put on goal, especially with Lee acting as a screen, the more pucks may slip by an opposing goaltender.
“It’s just continuing on my rehab and my progress here,” Lee said after he finished practice on Thursday. “It’s great to have camp to be able to do that. Just taking it day by day.”
Bode Wilde Absent from Camp
The ramifications of the covid-19 virus are unfortunately still being felt in the sports world. NHL teams are cracking down on vaccination requirements, and players who choose not to take it will jeopardize their careers. General manager Lou Lamoriello said that any unvaccinated player or staff member won’t be with the team this season. Lamoriello added that all members of the organization, except for one player, have been vaccinated. That one player is Bode Wilde.
The former 2018 second-round pick commented on an Instagram post he was tagged in, saying, “Appreciate it, man. Hoping my human rights are enough to let me play… what a world.”
Wilde had four points through 22 games in the American Hockey League last season. He missed time due to a leg injury during the 2019-20 season. If you include that the AHL was shut down early due to covid, his once high potential is now in question. Wilde will likely have to play overseas, as the AHL and OHL also require vaccinations. Barry Trotz commented on Wilde’s Instagram response saying that they will find a place for him to play.
“We respect everybody’s freedom of choice on the vaccine,” Trotz told Arthur Staple. “He’s going to play hockey, and we’re going to find him the best place to play because we think he’s a good player.”
The NHL reported that they expect that no more than ten individual players on active rosters will be unvaccinated on opening day. At a 98% vaccination rate, the NHL would have a higher vaccination percentage than the MLB, NBA, and NFL.
Zdeno Chara in Camp
Chara is one of the additions that will make an immediate impact on the Islanders. After trading Nick Leddy in the offseason, Chara will fill a big hole for the Isles. On day one of camp, he was partnered with Noah Dodson, an interesting pairing. Arthur Staple noted in a tweet that the pairing reminds Trotz of Chara’s days in Boston.
Chara looks to hold a more prominent role than his season in Washington. The Capitals lost unceremoniously to the Bruins, Chara’s former team. I feel that the Islanders will rely on Chara more if he plays with Dobson. As the second pairing defenseman, Chara brings a powerful slap-shot, once known as the hardest shot in the NHL.
After the first day of camp, the Islanders have highlighted a few positives and negatives. Prospect Bodie Wilde was left out because he remains unvaccinated, Andres Lee looks healthy and fully recovered from injury last season, and Zdeno Chara practiced with multiple defensemen.
After two seasons of Conference Final losses, the Islanders are a better, deeper, and healthier team. Lee and Chara were positives that will have an immediate impact on the season. Wilde’s absence is a negative, but he was likely going to play in the AHL all season anyway.Embed from Getty Images