The Islanders haven’t played a game since February 8th, but they still managed to place their top two centers, John Tavares and Frans Nielsen, on injured reserve over the past two days. Nielsen suffered a hand injury in the Isles last game before the Olympic Break against the Colorado Avalanche and Tavares was lost for the season after an MCL tear suffered in the Sochi Games.
There can be no sugarcoating how devastating these two losses are to the already bleak playoff hopes of the Islanders, but it does open up the door to the possibility of the Islanders best prospect, Ryan Strome, to be promoted from the AHL straight to centering the Islanders top line between Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek. And that is exactly what Garth Snow and Jack Capuano should do.
Strome has played 15 games for the Orange and Blue this season, producing only 1 goal and 3 assists in that time. Those are by no means impressive numbers, but in my opinion Strome is the right option to center the top unit for the remainder of what will inevitability go down as a lost season. The 23 year old Strome was the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft and he has been tearing up the AHL all season long. Prior to his promotion to the Isles in December he lead the entire AHL in scoring.
Snow and Capuano have a few other options to center the top unit, but none with as much appeal as Strome. Josh Bailey is a natural center who had been moved to wing because of the Islanders organizational depth at the center position, but there’s not a single fan of the team that would want to see Bailey getting top line minutes, and for good reason. He has only 21 points in 55 games played this year. Fourth line center Casey Cizikas would not be a good fit for top six minutes, let alone the top line. Along with Strome it is likely that Anders Lee will be promoted from the Bridgeport Soundtigers (the Isles AHL affiliate) but he is not the caliber player of Strome. This leaves Strome and current Islander third line center Brock Nelson as the only real candidates. Nelson is having a solid rookie year with the Isles and has played on the first line at all three positions at some point this season. If Tavares were coming back this year I would suggest that Brock would be a better stop-gap option, but with his being sidelined for the remainder of the season it makes more sense to let Strome get as many minutes as he can on the number one unit. Ultimately that is a role that the organization will want him to play in the future alongside Tavares, let him get a dress rehearsal now.