Ultimately there will be heavy pressure on the Islanders to improve upon their season from last year, which will be a tall task for the young club who still has questions marks on defense and in net.
Fortunately they have a superstar center in John Tavares, who is one of the best forwards in the game to help pick them up when things start to get tough for the club.
The New York Islanders are no longer a pushover in their own division -- although itís worth noting that despite their record, they seem to play extremely well within their own division especially against the rival New York Rangers over the past few seasons.
Headlined by Tavares, the Islanders have a deadly offensive attack, and finished seventh in the NHL in goals for per game. They were sixth in shots for per game and their strong offensive play certainly carried the club for the better part of the lockout-shortened season. The question with the team is can they replicate it over the course of an 82-game season? The addition of top prospect Ryan Strome to a full-time regular role could be one of the better offseason acquisitions.
1. John Tavares - One canít say enough what Tavares has meant to this New York Islanders club. The former top-overall draft pick came to the Islanders and immediately began to contribute. Last season was his best as a pro and he earned himself the distinction of finishing as a Hart Trophy finalist because of it. He has to continue to carry the club if they want to be successful.
2. Matt Moulson - Winger Matt Moulson has been a perennial 30-goal scorer since coming to New York, and finished near a point per game last season. He is Tavaresí left-hand man and is arguably close as integral a cog in the Islanders offensive machine as Tavares.
3. Michael Grabner - Grabner bounced around the Islanders lineup last season but the speedster still managed to score 16 goals, while being a top puckchaser. In todayís NHL, guys with speed that can wreak havoc on the forecheck by chasing defensemen deep are paramount to team success. If Grabner could just convert some more of those breakaways, he would easily be an Islander fan-favorite.
The Islanders defense corps will certainly mourn the loss of former captain and Swiss-born defenseman Mark Streit who provided plenty of offense on the teamís back end for the past four seasons. Fortunately the future is very bright for the Islanders defense. Travis Hamonic and Andy MacDonald are both young stalwarts of the team defense, and they have Griffin Reinhart waiting in the wings for his shot to prove why he was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
1. Travis Hamonic - Hamonic and the Islanders made a mutual commitment to each other this offseason, as the club locked up with younger defender until 2020 on a cap-friendly $3.85 million deal annually. The former second round pick is a steady presence defensively on the blue line with his excellent positioning and strong stick work. He is a tough player to take on one-on-one.
2. Lubomir Visnovsky - The 37-year-old Slovakian defenseman will be a huge part of what the Islanders want to do offensively this season. Visnovsky has been a successful offensive-defenseman everywhere he has stopped in his career, and the Islanders are hoping he can help them both on the power play and at even strength.
After finally saying goodbye to the oft-injured Rick DiPietro, the Islanders focused on their current number-one netminder Nabokov. Nabokov is no spring-chicken however, as he turned 38 this past summer. The team will have to rely on him, as Kevin Poulin is behind him in the depth chart.
Poulinís upside is yet to be determined, but the 23-year-old netminder has not proved anything yet at the NHL level. He has shown some flashes of talent, but he needs to prove he can handle a workload and to this point he has not done that. He will get a chance to make a decent amount of starts this season behind Nabokov, but he needs to make the best out of those starts or the Islandersí brass will bring in a more proven veteran to handle the workload.
Nabokov will have to continue to give the team what he has in the past is they want to be successful, and he cannot slip due to his age. If he plays to around a .910 save percentage and a 2.5 goals allowed average, the team will have their chance to succeed. If he slips however, the Islanders could be in big trouble.
The Islanders penalty kill ranked 21st in the league last year. It is something they will need to significant improve on as they move forward if they want to be one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. As their young defense gets older and more experienced, they should improve. The addition of Clutterbuck should help the ailing penalty kill as well.
Their penalty killing unit will likely take a small step forward if the goaltending continues to be on par with where it was last year.
The powerplay will rely heavily on the top offensive guns, which there is no shortage of on the Islanders. With Tavares at the crux of the attack, the teamís power-play should continue to be one of the top-10 in the league. They just need to execute with more consistency. The addition of Strome offensively could be an underrated addition as well. Young offensive players can thrive in a sheltered power play role often because they are not asked to be a responsible defensively.
Replacing Streitís offensive prowess may be a difficult task, but they certainly have talent to play the point. It should not be too grave a loss for the Islanders, who still have Visnovsky, a talented group of a forwards and a young, savvy defense corps.
For anyone thatís followed the Islanders of the past decade, their playoff berth last season was a long time coming. The club had stockpiled talent over the past few years and now itís time to put that talent on the ice. While they wonít be favored to win the division, they will certainly compete for a playoff spot and likely claim one of the last few spots. It will hinge greatly on how their goaltending holds up throughout the season.
Expect the Islanders to remain relevant in the discussion and ultimately finish third in the Metropolitan Division. From there, they will have tough sledding, but they are certainly a team to watch out for as the season progresses. They have the talent to make a run at the Metropolitan, but ultimately goaltending will hold them back from being in the discussion for the top team in the division.
Patrick Kearns is the New York Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.