As the New York Islanders head into the holiday break, there is a glaring issue the team needs to fix. The team finished off their last four games before the break with a 1-2-1 record and a lot of it has to do with lack of depth scoring.
Over the past four games, a majority of the Islanders’ depth pieces have gone cold. Every third or fourth liner, with the exception of Casey Cizikas and Derick Brassard (who has made frequent appearances on Brock Nelson‘s wing), went without a point in that span.
Cal Clutterbuck‘s wrist injury also makes this problem even tougher, as the Islanders will now be without one of their best penalty killers for a big chunk of the season. This puts the Islanders at an interesting situation at the roster freeze, as they haven’t been winning with the pieces they currently have in the bottom six.
The Islanders have two options as to how to go about fixing this issue: to find a solution in the system or to acquire a third liner via a trade prior to the February 24th trade deadline.
As for the in house options, the Islanders currently have Andrew Ladd, Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, and Michael Dall Colle as options on the wing with Derrick Brassard and Casey Cizikas centering the third and fourth line.
Ladd is seemingly the most interesting of those options, as he had just played his first game since being called up to the NHL roster on Monday.
The biggest upside of Ladd is that he has much to prove, as he tries to compete for his roster spot, as well as to become a contributor to the team, as he has only played 29 games with the Islanders since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Ladd had shown in the past that he is a capable goal scorer, as that was what got him inked to a seven-year contract worth $5,5 million per year back in July 2016, so perhaps Ladd could find a return to form and solidify himself as an option on that third line as the Islanders make their playoff push.
As for the others, Dal Colle seems to be the best of the bunch offensively, as he is young and has the most upside. Also, Komarov is the best defensive option, while Ross Johnston and Matt Martin bring toughness to the lineup. As for Kuhnackl, he is a wildcard, as he is a solid two way forward who will come through for you offensively on occasion, but nothing special.
The ideal lineup out of all of these bottom six options would consist of Andrew Ladd and Michael Dal Colle/Tom Kunhackl on Brassard’s line with Leo Komarov and Matt Martin/Ross Johnston on Cizikas’ line (with the names after the slash being scratches).
This allows for the third line to continue to be a scoring line while making the fourth line a more gritty and defensive line, but the third line could be a lot better than it looks now.
Perhaps the Islanders could look to Bridgeport for some offensive help, as Keiffer Bellows has been hot lately (scoring six goals in his last seven games) and Oliver Wahlstrom looked like he belonged at the NHL level despite not recording a single point in his nine-game stint with the team earlier this season.
Both options could provide scoring if they do find their footing in the NHL, but the Islanders might not want to take the risk of waiting on them to get used to the NHL game while competing for the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps the Islanders need to look for a trade partner following the roster freeze, and perhaps one of those trade partners could be the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators have two 20 goal scoring caliber players whose contracts will be expiring at the end of the season: Anthony Duclair and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Duclair is the wildcard out of the two, as he had failed to find his footing in the league before his arrival in Ottawa. Duclair’s 21 goals are already a career-high, surpassing his previous lone 20 goal scoring campaign in Arizona in his lone season in which he played at least 75 games.
He had become a journeyman up to this point, as he bounced through Arizona to Chicago and Columbus before ultimately finding success with the Senators this season.
Duclair had been able to stick in the league with his excellent skating ability and if he would be able to keep up his excellent goal-scoring numbers this season he could become a very viable third-line right-wing option for the Islanders.
Pageau is the safer bet, as the 27-year-old center brings both offensive and defensive upside to the team. For one, it allows Brassard to move back to the wing, where he has felt more comfortable this season, but Pageau also opens up that thrid line even more. He is a capable 15-20 goal scorer, who already has 18 goals this season, who can also set up his teammates while being able to kill penalties.
Pageau is Barry Trotz’s kind of player, as he gets his job done on both sides of the ice, especially given that Pageau is third in the league in +/- despite being on a not so good team.
Whether it comes from a trade like one for Pageau, or if it comes from one of the in house options stepping up, the Islanders need scoring from their forward depth- and quickly.