People keep asking me, where is all of this optimism surrounding the Islanders coming from?
So I figured what better way than to give specific reasons why the Islanders will be playing meaningful games in April and maybe May of 2012?
This article will be the first in a five-part series looking into the reasons the Islanders' resurgence will continue into next season and beyond.
Part 1: Goal Scoring/Line Consistency
For the first time in what has to be five years, the Islanders' top-six forward corps knows who it is going to be, barring injury of course.
The top line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau returns intact. Tavares is coming off leading the team in points and scoring 29 goals and 67 points.
That total should improve next season as Tavares matures into the player Islanders fans cheered for the team to draft a couple of years ago.
Moulson, second on the team with 53 points with 31, goals showed the world he was no one-hit wonder, and Parenteau, a player who had enjoyed only a cup of coffee in the NHL until this season, netted an impressive 20 goals and 33 assists.
As the season wore on and Islander fans got used to a perennial AHL player in Parenteau teaming with our prized player in Tavares, we realized that this guy has skill and is an excellent playmaker, which is why he complemented Tavares and Moulson so well.
Hopefully this unit can continue to grow together and take the next step forward.
The Islanders were not a one-line team this season either.
General manager Garth Snow made his second excellent waiver wire pickup in two seasons when he picked up Michael Grabner from the Florida Panthers after he failed to impress their new top brass.
Florida's loss, like the Kings with Moulson the year before, was most certainly the Islanders' gain.
Grabner started the year in a not too eventful fashion, chipping in the occasional goal and impressing the heck out of everyone with his blazing speed.
Once he was paired with Islanders center Frans Nielsen, all hell broke loose. Grabner started to score goals at a frenzied pace, winning NHL player of the month honors and earning himself a Calder Trophy nomination, scoring 34 goals with six of them short-handed.
Frans Nielsen surprised a lot of people this season. Never in any Islander fans' wildest dreams could we imagine the kind of season he put together, especially when paired with Grabner, not only at even strength but short-handed as well. He scored 13 goals this season, which in of itself is no big deal, but then you look closer and realize that seven of them were short-handed. He also got 31 assists and was a plus-13.
Sooner or later Nielsen could find himself nominated for a Selke Trophy.
Kyle Okposo came back from his major shoulder surgery and struggled early on but then got his legs and was able to mesh well with his linemates. He only scored five goals in 38 games, but he showed flashes of the two-way power forward he is capable of being once he got his stamina back.
I don't know about you, but I look forward to seeing what these six players can put together next season.
The remaining six forward spots appear to be filled as well, with returning veteran banger Trent Hunter looking to rebound from a lost season. Hunter's offensive skills are not the best part of his game, as he will never score over 20 goals again. However, he provides a physical presence that the Islanders need, as he loves to throw the body around. Hopefully he can stay relatively healthy.
Matt Martin and Michael Haley are ready to assume the roles of enforcers who can skate and chip in goals here and there.
Josh Bailey's 2010-11 season was a disappointment, as he will look to rebound and show he belongs in the NHL. Bailey reminds me a lot of former Islander prospect Tim Connolly. He is a playmaker who has a nice wrist shot and is coming to a point where he is going to take the next step up. As Connolly proved, not every player is an impact player right out of the gate.
The Islanders also have a pair of rookies that will look to crack the line up next season, as Nino Niederreiter has been dominating the WHL ever since the Islanders sent him back there after his nine-game cup of coffee with the team.
Kirill Kabanov will bring his immense ego and talent to training camp to try to convince Jack Capuano to keep him here. If he performs like he has in the QMJHL playoffs in camp, I'm sure he will get the obligatory nine-game look come October.
Blake Comeau is another Islander player that is coming into his own, netting a career-best 24 goals this season; he will also look to improve on those numbers. If he can mesh well with Josh Bailey, that will give the Islanders three lines that can score goals.
I also hope the Islanders bring back Zenon Konopka, who turned into the voice of the Islanders and instilled some pride in wearing the Islander crest in that locker room.
Will Trevor Gillies be back? I hope so. It's comforting knowing you have a top heavyweight enforcer to stick up for your young stars.
Garth Snow and his team of scouts have put together a very nice group of young forwards that can pretty much do everything. They can skate, pass, hit, fight, score and kill penalties.
Please leave your thoughts below.
Coming in Part 2: Goaltending is a positive?! Absolutely.
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