Predicting the New York Islanders Opening Night Lineup


Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders began their 2014 training camp today on Long Island with 65 players vying to crack the opening night roster. Which of those 65 will suit up for the Isles on October 10 in Carolina, and whom will they be playing alongside? These are my predictions for the opening night lineup:

Forward Lines (AKA the strength of the team):

Line One: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson.

If healthy,Tavares and Okposo are locks to be on the Isles top line, but the real question who will be Tavares’ other flank? I think that Brock Nelson will get the nod to start the season. Nelson impressed in his rookie campaign last year. His 26 points in 72 games doesn’t jump out at you, but he was a more effective player than that stat line suggests.

Line two: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin (the artist formerly known as Nikolai Kulemin, he recently changed the official spelling of his name) and Ryan Strome.

Kulemin and Grabovski, the Isles two big forward imports, were brought her to play together and reignite a chemistry that lead to both be very successful in Toronto, but the key to the success of this line will be the development of Ryan Strome, the team’s top prospect. Strome is projected as a top six forward, and this year he will get a chance to prove that he is. JT’s line will get the headlines, but the success or failure of this team, offensively, will depend on whether this unit can produce the secondary scoring the Isles have lacked.

Line three: Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey.

I like this line. A lot. Nielsen is coming off of a career year, and Frans is everything you want in a third line center. Grabner’s speed is a constant threat, even if his finishing ability is not, but he can be a game changer even playing limited minutes. Josh Bailey will be the x-factor on this line. Bailey is often criticized by the fan base, but at 24 years old he is not done developing as a player. A third line role could suit him well, alleviating pressure to produce big offensive numbers.

Line four.: Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin.

Stereotypical NHL fourth line.  Clutterbuck and Martin could finish 1-2 in hits in the entire league and Cizikas is a capable NHL fourth line center. These three will work extremely hard every shift and they wont be afraid to mix it up.

The Defense (AKA where things could get scary):

Top Pair: Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan.

Hamonic is the teams top d-man coming in. Even though he took a bit of a step back last year, he still is their best player in the back line. Calvin de Haan had a fantastic rookie campaign last year and has cemented himself as one of the team’s best defensemen.

Pair 3a (I don’t think the Isles have any other top 4 type defensemen on their roster right now): Brian Strait and TJ.. Brennan.

Strait is a solid, yet unspectacular, defenseman, but he is an NHL caliber player. Brennan lead the AHL in scoring for defensemen last year and was awarded the league’s best defenseman honor for the season. The fact that he received those honors but never was called up to the NHL level last season implies that he is likely not great in his own end of the ice. Brennan was brought in to provide some offensive punch from a d corps that sorely lacked it last season, that’s why he makes the squad.

Pair 3b: Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey:

Lubo is a lock to make the team if he can stay healthy and Hickey was the only Islander to play all 82 games last year. I don’t think there’s any doubt either make the team. They seemed to play their best when playing together, so Jack Capuano will keep them together, at least for opening night.

Goaltenders (AKA the upgrades AKA the only part not up for debate):

Starter: Jaroslav Halak

Halak is the best goaltender the Islanders have had since Rick DiPietro‘s lower body was unaltered by modern medical procedures. It’s as simple as that.

Backup: Chad Johnson

Johnson had a solid year last season backing up Tukka Rask in Boston, I expect more of the same. The fact he doesn’t wear number 85 bothers me more than it should.