There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that last season was a great and memorable one for the Islanders, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone had an A+ season individually. Adjusting to a new system and background can be challenging, especially for younger players who are trying to take the next step, consistent roster players. After a year of these adjustments, while it won’t be perfect, most players are adjusted pretty well to the team strategies and systems. This should allow their individual performances to improve as well. Whether they have been newly acquired in the offseason or have been in the organization for years, here are five players who can potentially have bounce-back seasons.
There were some questions about whether Beauvillier would return to the team this year, but he had recently signed a two-year, $4.2M contract. Beauvillier is still very young, and has top-nine offensive potential. In fact, this was already put on display. In the 2017-18 season, he put up 21 goals and 36 points in 71 games which is quite satisfactory for a third-line player, although he spent some time playing on the second line that season with Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
In watching Beauvillier play, it was obvious that he didn’t have the same confidence or presence as he did the previous season. He is an offensively-minded player, so adjusting to Trotz’s new defensive system made him struggle. As a result, he seemed invisible in some games and his offensive production decreased to a 28-point outing in 81 games.
On the other side of the coin, Beauviller tends to have a nose for the net, especially for a small player. Just because a defensive strategy is implemented does not mean that these skills are gone under any stretch of the imagination. Like many other forwards, his game was just fine-tuned to improve defensively and play a 200-foot game.
He also tends to be a player who relies on having mojo. When he’s on a hot streak, his skating, stick-handling, and overall attitude is electric. WIth a dip in offensive production last year, some of this confidence was thrown out the window. However, he has the potential to regain it, and if he does, can be a very solid top-nine forward for years to come.
Eberle took a pay-cut and signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Islanders this offseason prior to unrestricted free agency. So clearly, the loyalty and motivation is there. He most notably stated when he was signed, “We have as good of a chance as anybody.” Eberle is a team-first kind of player, which is exactly the kinds of players this Islanders team is composed of.
Eberle’s offensive stats dipped drastically, as he put up 37 points compared to the 59 he compiled the previous season. Like Beauvillier, Eberle struggled massively with the new defensive system at first. While on the Island, Eberle has always played his best hockey alongside Mat Barzal, and vice versa. They feed off of each other and are a dangerous combo.
However, for the majority of last season, these two offensive juggernauts were separated until the final stretch of regular season games and the playoffs. Trotz’s fear was that a line with Barzal and Eberle together would be too defensively irresponsible at first. By the time the season came to a close, they both were playing their best hockey as they played together with a newly established 200-foot game.
With Eberle’s talent, work ethic, and chemistry with Barzal, there aren’t too many reasons he should struggle this year. With a bit more consistency, Eberle is usually good for 60-65 pts. His career-high came in the 2011-12 season with Edmonton where he notched 34 goals and 76 points. The potential and passion is there. If he can stay consistent, he should bounce back without any concern.
This is a big question mark. Out of these five players in the article, Ho-Sang probably has the smallest chance of having a bounce-back season. He didn’t get a realistic shot at the NHL last year, as he put up a goal and an assist in only 10 games.
His whole career has been all over the map. He has been thrown back and forth between the NHL and AHL like a hot potato for his whole career. However, it is obvious that he is a dynamic player who has a lot of puck skills. The previous coaching staff had done an atrocious job developing him, but we haven’t yet seen a legitimate attempt for Ho-Sang to work with Trotz and his personnel.
Even in his short NHL stint this last season, he recorded a +2 in 10 games, compared to a -6 previously in his career. In the games he played at the NHL level this last season, while it was still very shaky, his defensive game improved noticeably.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello had just signed Ho-Sang to a one-year contract, and this year is essentially his last chance in the blue and orange. It can’t be denied he is an extremely dynamic player with lots of offensive skill. They wouldn’t have signed him to just rot in the minor leagues, and this likely means a good NHL shot is coming for Ho-Sang. With Trotz in charge, Islanders fans should have much more faith in his return, and what he can potentially bring to the table.
Now we shift to players that the Islanders have acquired this offseason. Brassard was recently signed to a one-year, $1.2M contract to play as the third-line center. Brassard is coming off of a disastrous season, putting up 21 points and a -19 rating among three teams.
His career generally went downhill since his time with the Rangers, as he was then traded to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, and since, he has been all over the place. A change of scenery can do so much for a player. Look at Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup in his first year on a new team.
Although it seems that Brassard is past his prime, he still was a good hockey player in New York and can be again. Trotz has turned many players’ careers around on the island in just one season. This could very potentially be similar to the Valterri Filppula situation last year, in which a veteran depth player signs a one-year deal and exceeds expectations.
Brassard has 451 points in 786 total NHL games, and hopes the Island is where he gets his career back in the right direction. And the Islanders have the right staff to do it.
Lastly, we will talk about the Islanders’ new netminder. Over the summer, Varlamov has worked with goaltending coach Mitch Korn and has built a relationship with Thomas Greiss as they are the new goaltending tandem.
Mitch Korn has transformed the careers of many NHL goalies, some of them being at the very top of the league. He has worked with Pekka Rinne, Brayden Holtby, Carter Hutton, Robin Lehner and Tomas Greiss. All of these goaltenders have improved by an extreme amount working with him.
Therefore, the concern shouldn’t be too much with Varlamov’s ability to play goalie. He has a .916% SV in his career, many of those years being played on a bottom-feeding Colorado team with atrocious defense. He can play goalie, but injuries have murdered him the past couple years.
Mitch Korn’s training involves stretching and full body workouts to avoid injury as much as possible, which is the main concern with Varlamov. He has implemented medicine ball training and other tactics with goaltenders he has worked with in the past to stay healthy. If consistency and health stay in check, Varlamov can have a comeback year in a big way.
In reality, all five of these players won’t have picture perfect seasons. That is nearly impossible. However, these players have the potential to step their game up to the next level, as they have proven their talents and work ethic in the past. With the Islanders, it is a collaborative team effort.
Every player plays a major role on this team, and the improvement of even a few players would make a tremendous difference. Anyone can analyze individual improvements and shortcomings all they want, but the key to success is viewing them on the team scale. And as for the Islanders, if one player or unit improves, the whole team improves.