Noah Dobson

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New York Islanders.

Islanders carry over surprises from 2018-19 for a hot start

To be honest, I expected the Islanders to be scrappy this season, but to narrowly miss the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through late November, that prediction looked as inaccurate as those who expected the Islanders to dwell in the cellar after John Tavares left during the summer of 2018.

Even factoring in Barry Trotz’s outstanding defensive acumen, it’s simply asking a lot for goalies to match what Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner pulled off in 2018-19. Yet, the Islanders combined more great goaltending (this time from Greiss and Semyon Varlamov) and timely scoring to start 2019-20 as one of the NHL’s hottest surprises.

It’s telling that the Islanders briefly topped PHT’s Power Rankings with their 16-3-1 record as of Nov. 21.

By compiling a franchise-record 16-game point streak, one wondered how high the Islanders might soar.

Betting on Varlamov (.920 save percentage through Dec. 31) over Lehner looked better than some figured. Meanwhile, Greiss continued his Trotz-era Renaissance (.919 save percentage during the same frame). The Islanders seemed poised to show that their way worked, and to an elite degree.

Islanders stumble as time goes on

However, you could argue that the Islanders couldn’t always walk what often felt like an all-defense tightrope. That high-wire act began to unravel, particularly from mid-January and on.

You can see that slippage in the big, shining neon light that was a seven-game losing streak entering the pause. But, really, the Islanders’ slide extended back a couple of months. If you want to hammer home disappointments for Islanders fans, you can’t get much more dramatic than “opening the door for the Rangers.”

That’s all disappointing, especially since the Islanders made some fairly aggressive trades (for Andy Greene and J.G. Pageau) to improve and patch up injuries. Your level of surprise likely revolves around how sustainable you thought the Islanders’ successes really were.

Looking at certain stats, it’s clear the luck swung violently the other way.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders tied with those hated Rangers for the fourth-highest PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent proxy for luck) of 102 through Dec. 31. Looking at 2020 alone, the Islanders ranked sixth-lowest with a 98.5 mark.

A higher-scoring team might have been able to weather slippage from Varlamov (.908 save percentage since Jan. 1) and Greiss (.901 during that span), but the Islanders struggled.

Surprises and disappointments for Islanders on offense

Modest offense from the Islanders shouldn’t rank among surprises, but the team not finding ways to inject more offense could be seen as one of their disappointments.

Considering how stringent the Islanders’ system is, Mathew Barzal leading the team with 60 points is understandable. It feels a bit wrong for a player that talented, but a lot is being asked of Barzal and a few others.

That said, the Islanders made things work — enough — thanks to nice scoring by committee.

Beyond some continued strong play from Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, the Islanders also made a smart, low-risk gamble on Derick Brassard. The oft-traded forward ranked eighth in team scoring with 32 points. That’s pretty nifty stuff from a $1.2 million investment.

The Islanders have to hope that they see solid growth in Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom like they did in Anthony Beauvillier this season.

Overall, I’d say that the pleasant surprises outweighed the disappointments for the Islanders in 2019-20. Of course, we’ll have to see if play resumes to learn what other twists and turns were coming.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looks like Kirby Dach is sticking with Blackhawks

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It looks like the top three picks of the 2019 NHL Draft will also play through at least the 10-game deadline that burns a year off of their entry-level contracts.

In the case of Jack Hughes (first pick, nine games played with the New Jersey Devils, little reason to expect anything but a full season barring injuries) and Kaapo Kakko (second pick, already 10 games played with the New York Rangers), this was all quite expected.

Third overall pick Kirby Dach, however? Now he was a wild card.

The Chicago Blackhawks decided to end any will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama on Wednesday, stating that Dach will stay at the NHL level for the “foreseeable future.” The team’s official website uses the phrase “for the duration of the season,” if foreseeable future was too vague.

“Stan [Bowman] and I sat with him yesterday and told him he’s going to be here,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Wednesday. “He’s played well. He’s shown he can help us and he’s only going to get better. I think the player he is now, there’s likely going to be a huge improvement as the year goes on and the player (he is) in February I’m sure is going to be an impact player for us.”

It’s an interesting choice.

Dach, 18, has scored one goal and one assist through six games. That last matter is part of what makes this interesting: the Blackhawks saw enough in six games to make this announcement, when they could have taken some more time before that 10-game cutoff.

On one hand, Dach is acquitting himself quite well. His possession stats are pretty promising, which is heartening even with the sort of cushy deployment (about two-thirds of his shifts start in the offensive zone, via Hockey Reference) you’d expect from a rookie jumping right from the draft to the big time.

On the other hand, Dach is getting fairly modest ice time at just under 12 minutes (11:59) per game. For some perspective, the only players with lower TOI average for Chicago are Zach Smith (9:47) and Brendan Perlini (7:49), the latter of whom was traded.

Would hit-or-miss ice time, even as a nominal third-liner, be the best course for Dach’s development? That’s debatable, especially since Dach could either see more time as he matures, or less time if he falls into the doghouse that many rookies find themselves in, for reasons that range from fair to arbitrary.

(NHL coaches are notorious for giving rookies and young players short leashes, even if veteran replacements are clearly more limited.)

The Blackhawks are at least somewhat focused on the present, rather than going on a conscious tank, so there are other ways to look at Dach: he’s a competent asset already, seemingly, and at the dirt-cheap price of an entry-level deal.

Is it the best way to manage this asset, both from the perspective of developing Dach and also taking the best advantage of those entry-level years? Personally, I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s an impressive jump from the towering center.

***

With the help of Cap Friendly’s handy entry-level slides listings, here are a few other 10-game deadline situations to ponder:

  • Jack Hughes, nine games played: Check that box.
  • Ville Heinola, eight GP: The 20th pick of 2019 has made a nice impression with the Winnipeg Jets, but there are rumblings that his days are numbered. David Gustafsson is a Jets forward with six games played who may also be worth monitoring.
  • Joel Farabee, five GP: The Flyers forward’s apparently had some bad luck early on.

It’s tough to tell if the Flyers are leaning one way or the other with Farabee, who has an assist in his first five games, and has been getting decent ice time.

  • Oliver Wahlstrom, five GP; Noah Dobson, three GP: These two intriguing Islanders are probably (like Farabee) a little early to be judged one way or another. Then again, the Blackhawks made that call with Dach just six games in, so we’ll see.
  • Barrett Hayton, four GP: With three points in his first four NHL games, it would be surprising if the Coyotes weren’t looking for every excuse to keep him at this level, especially since Arizona could use that extra skill and creativity.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.