New York Post
Isles wary of relying on their added talent
If the Islanders had been short on skill and long on grit in the recent past, the equation has flipped this season which starts Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, against the Blue Jackets.
On the opening night roster there are talents that were not present to start last year, the likes of wingers Jordan Eberle and Josh Ho-Sang. Adding to that are second-year pros Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, both 20 years old and set for big roles this year. Even the defense has gotten younger and more skilled by adding Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech as steady features in place of the traded (and sorely missed leader) Travis Hamonic.
How coach Doug Weight, in his first full year behind the bench, is going to use all that talent is still to be seen.
It was possible that Ho-Sang, Pulock and Pelech could all be healthy scratches for the opener. But how the increase in offensively talented players is eventually going to translate in the standings is still much of a question, especially with so many young players currently tabbed for important minutes.
So here is what Weight prescribed toward the end of training camp, hoping to ingrain a message to his largely inexperienced group.
“We think we’re a little more talented than we’ve been, and have to wipe that off our minds a little bit,” Weight had said. “We need to be that team that’s just competing, working, rolling shifts. So that’s the focus moving forward. It’s our shift length, our battle level, our compete level. Because the talent, it can get you in trouble.”
Of course, the talent still starts with captain John Tavares, who goes into the season on the final year of his contract while continuing to weigh all the variables that will factor into him choosing to sign an extension or leave. That includes the future home rink for the franchise, but more immediately includes what type of team the Isles are going to have on the ice.
“There’ll be a time and place for all that and as we go along,” Tavares said recently, repeating the refrain he will regurgitate over and over throughout North America this fall.
General manager Garth Snow still has a stockpile of high draft picks, including four in the first two rounds next year. His ability to increase the talent around Tavares has not gone unnoticed, but another proven forward to join the team sometime during the season certainly wouldn’t hurt. So would a good start to the season.
Weight pointed to three players in particular he hopes will make immediate impacts — Barzal, Ho-Sang and Eberle.
“We’ve got three dynamic players in Barzy, Ho’s and Ebs — great hands, deceptive, can find people, hockey-sense, decisions — that we haven’t had on this team in that aspect,” Weight said. “But we have to make sure we’re getting back to that warrior-type attitude, competing.”
The team still does have a gritty and energetic fourth line in Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. But that group is meant as a supplement to the team’s talent and skill. Weight is also relying on a goaltending tandem of Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak to carry the load, at least to start the season.
But it still comes back to the talent around Tavares, and whether it’s enough to get them over the hump after missing the playoffs by one point last season.