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Islanders season preview: Barzal point production, secondary scoring keys

Need consistency from goalies Sorokin, Varlamov; Romanov strengthens defense

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The 2022-23 NHL season starts Oct. 7. With training camps opening soon, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the New York Islanders.

Coach: Lane Lambert (first season)

Last season: 37-35-10, fifth in Metropolitan Division; did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs

3 KEYS 

1. Barzal's point production

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said the goal under Lambert is to be more offensive minded without sacrificing the defensive game that was their bread and butter for four seasons under former coach Barry Trotz. To do that, New York needs center Mathew Barzal, its best offensive player, to produce more than he did playing for Trotz, including 59 points (15 goals, 44 assists) in 73 games last season, when the Islanders were tied with the Buffalo Sabres for 22nd in total goals (229).

Barzal became a better all-around player under Trotz, but the 25-year-old hasn't been a point-per-game player since he had 1.04 (85 points; 22 goals, 63 assists) and won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year in 2017-18, the season before Trotz arrived and helped the Islanders establish their defensive mentality. He's in the final season of a three-year contract and can be a restricted free agent.

2. Goaltending consistency

The Islanders' strength is their goalie tandem of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. New York was in the bottom third of the NHL in scoring last season but had a .913 save percentage that tied the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames for third and a 2.79 goals-against average tied for eighth with the Los Angeles Kings.

Sorokin established himself as the clear No. 1, going 26-18-8 with a 2.40 GAA, .925 save percentage and seven shutouts in 52 games. Varlamov was one of the best backups in the NHL despite going 10-17-2 with a 2.91 GAA, .911 save percentage and two shutouts in 31 games (29 starts).

As much as the Islanders need their offense to improve, they won't be a playoff team without repeat performances from Sorokin and Varlamov.

Video: Top 15 Ilya Sorokin Saves from the 2021-22 Season

3. More secondary scoring

There were 24 teams last season with at least two players who had at least 60 points; Brock Nelson and Barzal led the Islanders with 59. The only teams that had leading scorers with fewer points than Nelson and Barzal were the Philadelphia Flyers (Travis Konecny, 52) and Seattle Kraken (Jared McCann, 50). New York was 25th in the NHL in goals from forwards (197) and tied for 22nd with Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh Penguins with 32 goals from defensemen.

They did not make a major offseason upgrade to their forward group, so they need more from within. Will Oliver Wahlstrom (13 goals) and Anthony Beauvillier (12 goals) become consistent scoring threats? Will Kyle Palmieri build on his second half, when he scored 14 goals in his last 40 games after he had one in his first 29? Can Nelson approach 40 goals again after the center scored 37 last season?

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

The Islanders have an opening in their top-six defense group. Provided they're healthy, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov and Scott Mayfield are locks, but Robin Salo, Sebastian Aho and Dennis Cholowski are three internal candidates expected to compete for the final spot. Kieffer Bellows, Matt Martin and Ross Johnston figure to compete for the last spot at forward. Bellows, a 24-year-old and the No. 19 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 45 games last season. Martin and Johnston combined for 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 103 games.

Most intriguing addition 

Romanov, 22, is the only player added in the offseason who is expected to make an immediate impact. He was acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on July 7 for New York's first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft (No. 13). Romanov had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 79 games last season, leading the Canadiens in blocked shots (144), hits (227) and shorthanded ice time (203:26). He is expected to play on the second pair with Dobson, who led Islanders defensemen with 51 points (13 goals, 38 assists) in 80 games.

Biggest potential surprise

Aatu Raty will have to shine in training camp to even be considered for a roster spot, but the 19-year-old forward from Finland is one of the Islanders' top prospects and could play his way onto the team. Raty is a point producer, which is what the Islanders need. He had 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games last season for Jukurit in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland. He also had four points in six Calder Cup Playoff games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in seven games for second-place Finland in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Ready to break through

Wahlstrom has 25 goals in 117 games the past two seasons. He has arguably the best shot on the Islanders, but he shot 8.3 percent last season, scoring 13 goals on 157 shots in 73 games after he scored 12 goals on 94 shots (12.8 percent) in 2020-21. Wahlstrom seems like a natural fit to play with a playmaking center like Barzal, who can open the ice for the 22-year-old right wing with his skating and puck handling.

Fantasy sleeper  

Beauvillier, LW/RW (undrafted on average in fantasy) -- He had NHL career highs in assists (22) and power-play points (11) last season and scratched the surface of fantasy relevance with 21 goals in 71 games in 2017-18. If the Islanders offense picks up, Beauvillier and Wahlstrom could be fantasy deep sleepers if they earn more time on the top line and/or first power play. -- Pete Jensen

PROJECTED LINEUP

Anders Lee -- Mathew Barzal -- Oliver Wahlstrom

Anthony Beauvillier -- Brock Nelson -- Kyle Palmieri

Kieffer Bellows -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Josh Bailey

Zach Parise -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Alexander Romanov -- Noah Dobson

Robin Salo -- Scott Mayfield

Ilya Sorokin

Semyon Varlamov

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