Jordan Eberle

Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders
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Varlamov steady in Islanders’ bounce-back win

After an 8-3 defeat against the Nashville Predators earlier this week, questions about the New York Islanders being an elite team in the Eastern Conference began to arise.

With a 3-2 shootout win on the road against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins, the Islanders answered the naysayers.

Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves and stopped two of three shooters in the shootout in his 12th win of the season. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle both scored in the skills competition as the Islanders snapped a seven-game winless streak against the Bruins.

Varlamov showing his worth

The Russian netminder made his best save of the night late in the second period when he robbed Anders Bjork with his glove. Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy circled the net before sending a cross-ice pass to Bjork but Varlamov stretched out and snagged the puck to keep the game tied at the time.

When Lou Lamoriello signed Varlamov this summer to replace Robin Lehner, the move was far from universally praised. But the Islanders front office has proven their ability to identify talent in between the pipes.

If Varlamov continues to trend in the right direction, would Lamoriello consider moving Thomas Greiss at the trade deadline in order to collect a few additional assets? Goaltending has been a strength for the Islanders since Barry Trotz and his lieutenants have arrived, but is subtracting Greiss from the roster a smart gamble?

Pastrnak’s filthy move

When your team loses in a shootout, incredible dekes are often forgotten.

But, David Pastrnak‘s slick move in the second round is worth remembering. The NHL-leading goal scorer slid from his backhand to his forehand before Varlamov could even react.

The goal won’t count toward his total, and the Bruins will leave with only one point, but the shootout gave Pastrnak another forum to display his impressive skills, and the forward took full advantage.

Does Rask have a flaw in the shootout?

Both Eberle and Barzal converted their shootout attempts with wrist shots instead of attempting a deke.

Eberle skated in on the left side of the ice and fired a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask’s blocker, while Barzal flew down the middle of the ice before slowing and eventually wiring a wrist shot over the glove.

Do the Islanders know something about Rask that the NHL has not figured out?

It certainly could have been a coincidence, but will be interesting to see if other players opt for the same strategy against Rask in his next shootout appearance.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Rust, Zadina among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Filip Zadina, Red Wings – LW/RW: This obviously isn’t the Red Wings’ season, but Zadina is a big part of what Detroit hopes is a bright future. He started the campaign in the AHL, but he made his NHL season debut on Nov. 24th and has been chipping in regularly with two goals and seven points in his last seven games. He’s definitely a gamble, but he has the offensive upside to make him worth the risk. It doesn’t hurt that the Red Wings are incentivized to give their younger players healthy minutes given that the idea of making the playoffs is already long gone.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: If nothing else, Duclair is worth taking a shot on right now given how hot he is. He has an incredible seven goals and eight points in his last four games alone. He’s been really good for a while though with 17 goals and 24 points in his last 25 games. He does have a 20.5 shooting percentage over that span, which is a pretty big red flag, but I do think he’s still worth taking a chance on. Duclair is a forward who has shown promise before and might be hitting his stride now that he’s getting a bigger opportunity with Ottawa.

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle left something to be desired last season, but he did end it on a positive note that gave us hope for the 2019-20 campaign. Unfortunately he got off to a rather rough start this season too and plenty of fantasy owners ditched him as a result. He’s shown signs of life in December though with three goals and seven points in seven games. This might just be a hot streak, but Eberle’s a player who has bounce back potential so if you pick him up now, there’s at least a chance he’ll be a valuable asset for the rest of the campaign.

Josh Bailey, Islanders – LW/RW: If you want to double down on Islanders, Bailey is another option. Like Eberle, Bailey is owned in under 20% of Yahoo leagues at the time of writing and like Eberle, he’s red hot right now. Bailey has a goal and eight points in his last eight games. Just as an aside, while Eberle and Bailey obviously are on the same team, they aren’t typically on the ice together. In fact, Bailey has 22 points in 31 games in 2019-20 while only combining with Eberle four times. This is all to say that Eberle and Bailey aren’t linked, so it’s entirely possible that one will stay hot while the other cools down.

Tyler Toffoli, Kings – LW/RW: Los Angeles is taking a breather on Monday, but when they face Boston Tuesday night, Toffoli will be entering the contest on a four-game point streak. He has an impressive three goals and seven points over that span. Taking his season as a whole, he has nine goals and 20 points in 34 contests, which is good for third place on the Kings scoring race, but is pretty borderline in standard leagues and his lack of contributions on the power play or with hits makes him not a terribly viable long-term option. Still, he’s at least an option worth entertaining while he’s hot.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: I’ve mentioned Rust before as a possible add candidate, but I feel justified in mentioning him again given that he’s still available in over half of Yahoo leagues. He’s just been a great contributor this season with 12 goals and 22 points despite being limited to 19 games. He’s also hot right now, scoring three goals and five points in his last three contests.

Jason Zucker, Wild – LW/RW: Zucker isn’t particularly hot right now with a goal and three points in his last five games, but he’s been a regular contributor throughout the season. His 12 goals and 24 points in 34 games aren’t amazing, but it’s solid and his eligibility on both wings is a great bit of flexibility. If you’re been battered by injuries or have an underperforming winger, Zucker is a pretty safe stopgap measure.

Robby Fabbri, Red Wings – LW/RW: Fabbri didn’t have a spot with the St. Louis Blues, but he certainly has one in Detroit. He’s averaged 17:07 minutes since being acquired by the Red Wings and he’s paid them back for the opportunity by scoring eight goals and 15 points in 18 contests. Fabbri is still owned in just 17% of Yahoo leagues, so he’s flown under the radar to an extent, but he’s had some decent value since the trade and should continue to be a significant contributor with Detroit.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak has been decent this season, but he’s dialed it up lately with two goals and nine points in his last 10 games. I don’t expect him to maintain that kind of pace, but he’s an asset while it lasts. Once he cools down though, I’d lean towards dropping him in favor of some other option.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal had 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games in 2018-19, which was his worst showing since coming to Minnesota. This season is shaping up to be better though. He has 12 goals and 26 points in 34 contests. He only had an assist in his first seven games this season, but since then he’s been an excellent and relatively regular contributor. His center-only eligibility is a definitely knock against him, but he still has use in standard leagues.

Players You May Want To Drop

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: This is a bit of a tough one. He’s having a great rookie season with five goals and 16 points in 32 games, but that might not be quite enough reason to hold onto him if you’re in a standard league. A lot of that production comes from a great run that occurred from Oct. 29-Nov. 30, but more recently he’s been limited to two assists in seven games. Rookies can have more extreme hot-and-cold spells than veterans, so it’s a little riskier to hold onto one while they are cold. That said, even if you do decide to part ways with him for now, he’s definitely still worth keeping a close eye on.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman enjoyed a big hot streak from Nov. 13-28, scoring six goals and 10 points in eight contests. He hasn’t done much else this season though. In fact, if you take away that streak, then he’s left with three goals and six points in 24 games in 2019-20. He’s a decent secondary scorer and was certainly worth having during his hot streak, but there’s not much incentive to keep him now that he’s cooled down.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Skinner has surpassed the 30-goal milestone four different times in his career, but never in back-to-back seasons. It’s looking more-and-more like that unfortunate trend will continue. Although he scored 40 goals last season, he’s been limited to 11 goals and 18 points in 34 contests this season. It gets worse if you look at what he’s brought to the table since mid-November. He’s scored just three goals and six points in his last 16 games. His shooting percentage is just 6% over that span, which is pretty low for him, so it seems reasonable to believe he’ll eventually bounce back, but not necessarily to the levels that some are hoping.

Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild – G: Kahkonen has spent most of the season in the minors, but he’s been with the Wild during Devan Dubnyk’s absence for personal reasons.  The Wild had a full schedule last week with four games, including three contests in four nights from Dec. 12-15, so Kahkonen has seen plenty of action lately. He saved 31 of 33 shots in an overtime loss on Dec. 10th, but then he allowed five goals on Dec. 12th and four markers on Dec. 15th. In other words, he’s been a mixed bag and even if he wasn’t, his stint with Minnesota would probably be coming to a close anyways. Dubnyk didn’t participate in Sunday’s game, but there’s a fair chance he’ll be back soon and once he is, Kahkonen return to the AHL.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: This has been a pretty shaky season for the Sharks and Jones has certainly been impacted by that. He has a 3.30 GAA and .888 save percentage in 27 games, which would both be career lows if this continues. That said, I’m a little hesitant to recommend dropping or otherwise getting rid of him at this time. The Sharks shook up their coaching staff just two games ago and part of that change was bringing in former Sharks starter Evgeni Nabokov as the new goaltending coach. It’ll be interesting to see if those changes can help San Jose in general and Jones in particular turn things around. However, I do see this as something of a final opportunity as far as the 2018-19 campaign is concerned. If Jones hasn’t rebounded in the next few weeks then it would make sense to explore other options.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Red Wings snap skid; hats off to Panarin

Artemi Panarin Hat Trick Rangers
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Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks probably had no business winning this game. They were badly outshot, outplayed, and needed to rely on their goalie to keep them in it. Fortunately for the Canucks, Markstrom was up to the challenge and played one of the best games of his career as he stopped all 43 shots he faced in a 1-0 overtime win. He held on just long enough for Elias Pettersson to score the game-winning goal thanks to a fluky assist from an unlikely source. Read all about it here.

2. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. The Rangers spoiled Bob Boughner’s San Jose coaching debut with a 6-3 win that was highlighted by another huge game for Panarin. He scored three goals and added an assist in the win to continue his incredible 2019-20 performance. His first year with the Rangers has been everything the team could have hoped for as he is now up to 18 goals and 41 total points in 31 games. The Sharks, meanwhile, are now 0-5-1 in their previous six games.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. His point streak is now up to 15 consecutive games thanks to a two-goal effort in a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators. It is the second game in a row that Eichel has scored a pair of goals as he continues to climb the NHL’s scoring leaderboard. He is unstoppable right now and trying to carry the Sabres to a playoff spot all by himself.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • The Detroit Red Wings’ losing streak has finally come to an end. They were winners for the first time since Nov. 12 thanks to a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets to snap what had been a 12-game losing streak. Robby Fabbri continued his strong play since joining the team with a pair of goals while Filip Zadina recorded three points.
  • The Calgary Flames improved to a perfect 7-0-0 under new coach Geoff Ward thanks to a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Johnny Gaudreau scored a pair of goals as part of a three-goal third period for the Flames to get the win.
  • Tristan Jarry recorded his third shutout in his past four starts for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they were 1-0 winners over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus coach John Tortorella had no words for his team’s lackluster performance. Read about it here.
  • Clayton Keller scored a pair of goals for the Coyotes in their 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks to put them back in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Eric Staal was in the lineup after a scary injury on Tuesday and scored a goal in the Minnesota Wild’s 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Oskar Sundqvist had a goal and an assist for the St. Louis Blues in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Another strong start for Jonathan Quick as he stopped 36 out of 37 shots for the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Steven Stamkos scored twice for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a huge 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
  • Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee each had a pair of points in the New York Islanders’ 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

Highlights of the Night

It came in a losing effort, but Nashville’s Matt Duchene scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Buffalo.

Check out this quick tic-tac-toe passing by the Islanders to set up Mathew Barzal for a power play goal against the Panthers.

 

Eichel’s goal to extend his point streak was an absolutely perfect shot.

Blooper of the Night

The puck ended up getting lost in Markstrom’s equipment and he needed a lot of assistance in finding it.

Factoids

  • Panarin’s hat trick on Thursday was the third of his career, all of them coming with different teams. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton played in career game No. 1,600 on Thursday, making him and Patrick Marleau the first set of teammates to have 1,600 games played in their careers. [NHL PR]
  • The Islanders’ points percentage of .733 is the second highest in franchise history through the first 31 games of a season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Nashville Predators 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Boston Bruins 2
New York Islanders 3, Florida Panthers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 1, Columbus Blue Jackets 0 (OT)
Detroit Red Wings 5, Winnipeg Jets 2
St. Louis Blues 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Minnesota Wild 6, Edmonton Oilers 5
Calgary Flames 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Arizona Coyotes 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Los Angeles Kings 2, Anaheim Ducks 1
Vancouver Canucks 1, Carolina Hurricanes 0 (OT)
New York Rangers 6, San Jose Sharks 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Preseason standouts who could keep it up

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Welcome to the second fantasy hockey preview column before we start doing proper Add/Drop columns next week. This week we’re going to focus on some of the standout performers in the preseason who could carry that success into the 2019-20 campaign.

Before we do that, it’s worth conceding that preseason statistics can’t be taken at face value. For a quick and easy example of that, we need look no further than Boston’s 8-2 victory over Chicago on Saturday. In that game Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak each had a hat trick and registered an assist, but Chicago put forth a team of largely AHLers against them. In net for Chicago was 25-year-old Matt Tomkins, who spent last season in the ECHL, and 24-year-old Kevin Lankinen, who split 2018-19 between the AHL and ECHL. Now we already know that DeBrusk and Pastrnak are talented players anyways, but can we really read anything into them excelling against that level of competition?

That doesn’t mean the preseason can’t help provide insight though when coupled with some context. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into some interesting cases.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights – Pacioretty has been one of the most dominating players of the 2019 preseason with four goals and 10 points in four games. He used to be one of the league’s most consistent scoring threats, but his last two seasons have left something to be desired, so the question now is if there is reason to believe 2019-20 might be a bit of a comeback campaign for him. The addition of Mark Stone at the trade deadline should help here because Vegas seems set to roll out a line of Stone, Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny (who was limited to 50 games last season due to injury). That combination has a ton of potential and puts Pacioretty in a position to succeed. That along with Pacioretty’s preseason success and the hope that he’s fully adjusted to Vegas now that he has a year there under his belt, gives plenty of cause for hope.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators – Tkachuk had a solid rookie campaign with 22 goals and 45 points in 71 games and he should be able to take a step up this season. If nothing else, he’s going to get significantly more than the 16:01 minutes he averaged in 2018-19. After all, the Senators no longer have Stone, Matt Duchene, or Ryan Dzingel on the roster, so this is a team that pretty much needs to revolve around Tkachuk offensively. We saw a preview of that at the end of last season with him scoring eight goals and 13 points in his final 16 games while averaging 17:59 minutes. The preseason has offered further evidence of that. Tkachuk has scored three goals and six points in four exhibition contests while averaging 19:35 minutes.

Connor Brown, Ottawa Senators – Sticking with Ottawa for the moment, Brown is another player who is in a position to benefit from playing for the offensively depleted Senators. Brown had 20 goals as a rookie back in 2016-17, but his role with the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly declined as their offense got deeper. Brown had eight goals and 29 points in 82 games last season while averaging just 13:48 minutes. By contrast, he could end up playing regularly with Tkachuk on the Senators. Brown had two goals and four points in four games while averaging 20:58 minutes in the preseason.

Adam Gaudette, Vancouver Canucks – If you’re looking for players who made a big impression during training camp, Gaudette would have to be high on the list. His work in the preseason has even been singled out by NHL’s Twitter account on a few occasions.

In the end, he finished the preseason with four goals and six points in six games. At the time of writing Vancouver’s roster hadn’t been finalized so it is possible that the Canucks will send him down because he wouldn’t have to clear waivers, but given how well he’s done, it’s more likely that he will start the season on the third line. That would allow him to take a significant step up from his rookie campaign. He had just five goals and 12 points in 56 games last season, but was averaging a modest 10:57 minutes. He showed he has a lot of offensive potential when he scored 30 goals and 60 points in 38 games with Northeastern University in 2017-18 as well as his 11 points in 14 games stint in the AHL last season. With him seemingly climbing up the depth charts, he’ll be someone to keep an eye on.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders – Like Pacioretty, Eberle has usually been a consistent scorer, but he struggled last season with 19 goals and 37 points in 78 games. Part of that was Eberle needing time to adjust to coach Barry Trotz’s system and slowly earning the trust of his new bench boss. Once Eberle did that and developed chemistry with Mathew Barzal, he really started to shine. Eberle had five goals in his final seven regular season games and followed that up with four goals and nine points in eight playoff contests. He’s looking to build off that success and has gotten off on the right foot with four goals and seven points in five exhibition games.

Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers – Bear has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2019 preseason. The 22-year-old defenseman had two goals and five points in four exhibition games and he impressed Oilers coach Dave Tippett with the work he put in to get stronger over the summer.

“You like to see it,” Tippett said, per Sportsnet. “He put the work in. He’s changed a lot of his diet, he’s changed his mind set on how he wants to live, and how he wants to play. You love to see guys who do that have success, because it’s a model of how it works. He’s a good ‘today’s style’ NHL defenseman.”

Bear has always had offensive potential and we might start to see a bit of it show up in the NHL this season. That said, he’s one I’d rather keep an eye on for now than pick up in standard fantasy leagues.

Carter Verhaeghe, Toronto Maple Leafs – Verhaeghe certainly didn’t seem destined for big things early in his career. The Maple Leafs drafted him in the third round back in 2013 and two years later he was thrown in as part of a five-player deal to acquire Michael Grabner from the Islanders. Two years after that the Islanders shipped him to Tampa Bay in exchange for depth goaltender (and current KHLer) Kristers Gudlevskis. Verhaeghe took a huge stride forward last season though with 34 goals and 82 points in 76 AHL contests and he continued that strong player with two goals and five points in six preseason games. All that work has put the 24-year-old forward on the cusp of playing in the NHL for the first time.

“You look at the stats, he led the team in scoring in the preseason but that really wasn’t it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told The Athletic. “It’s how his game has evolved and he has been a pretty pleasant surprise from watching him in camp two years ago until now. You look at guys who have inched their way forward and really shown growth and improvement and he’s definitely one of them. He’s made a good case for himself.”

Of course, even assuming he’s on the Lightning’s opening game roster, he’s not guaranteed to stick with them. Part of the reason he’s in this position is due to injuries, so Verhaeghe is very much in a position where he’ll have to keep competing for his spot. It is worth noting though that he would be waiver eligible, so even if the deep Lightning ultimately don’t have room for him, it wouldn’t be shocking to see another team give him a shot.

[MORE: Under-drafted players who could help your team]

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs – For Nylander, the fact that he had a training camp at all is a huge step up from last year. He didn’t even make his season debut in 2018-19 until Dec. 6 because he was a contract holdout and went on to record just a goal and three points over his first 19 games last season.

“I felt I was ready, but what I discovered was that other players were a step ahead of me,” Nylander said, per The Globe and Mail. “I fell behind. The transition was harder than I expected.”

This season he won’t have to deal with that and he’s poised for a major bounce back campaign as a result. He was solid in the preseason with a goal and four points in four games.

Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils – Not that you needed a solid preseason from Hughes to know he had potential going into 2019-20, but it doesn’t hurt. He had three goals and four points in four exhibition contests. The bigger point of interest with him going into training camp is who he’s likely to open the season alongside. Right now it appears he’s likely to play alongside Nikita Gusev on the second line. That’s a pretty interesting combination given Gusev is also a mix of high potential with an unknown factor. He’s attempting to make the transition from KHL star with 82 points in 62 games last season to NHLer. Both Hughes and Gusev could be significant factors in fantasy leagues this season.

Sammy Blais, St. Louis Blues – Blais went into training camp with a shot of making the roster and managed to secure his spot in part thanks to his strong play in the preseason. He had a goal and six points in five exhibition contests. He has just three goals and seven points in 43 career NHL games, but his lack of offensive production was at least partially due to the role he had. He averaged just 10:05 minutes per game whereas this time around he’s got a shot at serving in a top-nine capacity. It’s also worth noting from a fantasy perspective that even if Blais doesn’t do that much offensively this season, he would probably be one of the league’s top players in terms of hits if he plays regularly. Given that Yahoo leagues now use hits as a default category over penalty minutes that alone gives him some notability.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered. Recently Michael Finewax released his first “The Week Ahead” of the season where he previews all 31 teams.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.