In the NHL, lineup stability is hard to come by. The Islanders have one of the worst forward cores in the NHL and therefore, struggle to consistently score. Heading into last year’s offseason, Lou Lamoriello needed to bring in a 3rd-line center to neutralize Valterri Filppula’s departure. The Isles ended up signing Derick Brassard, who’s been a pleasant surprise after a slow start. Brassard started producing after he was moved to the wing, opening up a hole at 3C. Brassard was expected to center that line, but he’s proven better alongside Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. Ever since the position switch, Barry Trotz has slotted different forwards into that 3rd-line center spot with Leo Komarov and Josh Bailey. Without a “set-in-stone” 3-line, the Islanders have not been able to run all 4-lines as they did so successfully last year.
The Islanders are 9-2-0 when they get a goal from at least one bottom-six forward, a pretty good indicator of how important depth scoring is. It’s also a good indicator of how little the bottom-six forwards have contributed offensively. To get a goal from at least one bottom-six forward in only 11 games is simply not good enough. It puts more pressure on the top lines and forces the entire Islanders offense to revolve around Mathew Barzal. Right now, Tom Kuhnhackl is in Jordan Eberle’s normal spot on Mat Barzal’s wing. Kuhnhackl is not the typical first-line player, but he’s been pretty successful next to the all-star center thus far. Most fans assume that Eberle will return to his usual spot sooner rather than later, leaving the Islander’s four lines looking like this:
Anders Lee – Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier – Brock Nelson – Derick Brassard
Ross Johnston – Josh Bailey – Tom Kuhnhackl
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Leo Komarov/Michael Dal Colle
Barry Trotz is a big believer in playing all four lines. In recent games, he’s had to cut his bench to lean on certain players, lowering playing time for guys like Ross Johnston and Michael Dal Colle. Although Johnston is turning into one, Dal Colle is not an everyday player in the NHL, and he should not be expected to provide a daily role. If Trotz wants to be able to roll all four lines, the Islanders management will need to make some moves.
The Isles need more production from their bottom-six forwards and the trade deadline will be the perfect opportunity to bolster the forward core. JG Pageau is the ideal addition, but his price tag may be too high for Lou Lamoriello. Maybe guys like Devils’ Miles Wood, Red Wings’ Andreas Athanasiou, or Flames’ Sam Bennett are on Lamoriello’s radar. True top-six guys like Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Palmieri, and Brandon Saad (when healthy) could slot into a top-six wing, providing another offensive source. The Islanders could turn to Bridgeport in Keiffer Bellows, who has been on absolute fire this past month with 10 goals in 11 games. They could return to Cole Bardreau, who looked very promising during his quick stay with the Isles. No matter what Lou Lamoriello decides to do, the bottom line is that the Islanders need depth scoring, and they won’t go anywhere without it.