Before every season, it’s always fun to make predictions which in all likelihood, will be inaccurate. One year ago, of the five bold New York Islanders predictions that were made, only two were close and the others weren’t even in the ballpark (Anthony Beauvillier playing on the top line aged poorly). The Islanders head into this season with a similar roster to last season’s but with one that has a few players with raised expectations.
With this in mind, here are the bold predictions for the Islanders’ 2023-24 season. Some of these picks will be a miracle if they happen while others can be anticipated by the fans, starting with one that isn’t considered too far off.
Sorokin Wins The Vezina Trophy
This was one of last season’s most accurate predictions. Ilya Sorokin had a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.34 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,938 shots with 36 goals saved above average (GSAA) in a season where he put himself on the map. Linus Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy but Sorokin had a convincing argument to take home the award.
Heading into this season, the Vezina Trophy is Sorokin’s to lose. Granted, a regression is possible after a career year. Likewise, Igor Shesterkin, Connor Hellebuyck, and Jake Oettinger are expected to have big seasons and possibly surpass him at some point.
The Islanders will need him to start 60 games if not more to get into the playoffs and they’ll rely heavily on him as they did last season. If Sorokin continues to play at a high level and carry the Islanders, expect him to take home the trophy for the first time in his career.
Islanders Average Over 3 Goals Per Game
The last time the Islanders averaged over three goals per game was the 2017-18 season. It didn’t help them win as they allowed 3.57 goals per game and missed the playoffs but since then, they’ve become a defense-first team. Former head coach Barry Trotz was hired in 2018 and fixed the defense but notably slowed things down, causing the offense to struggle. Lane Lambert took over the team last season and played a faster system but relied on the defense to carry the Islanders to the playoffs. This season, Lambert hopes the fast pace and more offensive-minded system takes off and becomes one of the best in the league.
The Islanders have the pieces in place to turn their offense into one of the best. Brock Nelson has made his mark as a perennial 30-goal scorer while Mathew Barzal is a dynamic playmaker who makes his linemates better. The questions are if the forwards can work well alongside one another and if Lambert can find the right combinations, especially in the top six.
With Bo Horvat added to the top line and Pierre Engvall playing a big role on the top six, the Islanders have the shooters that can take the offense to the next level. If Barzal remains a dynamic playmaker and provides Horvat with open looks on the net, while Nelson continues to find Engvall and Kyle Palmieri open on the wings, the offense will average over three goals per game.
Dobson & Romanov Form Islanders’ New Top Pair
This is bold considering Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov didn’t even play on the same pair down the stretch last season. Dobson, one of the better skaters on the unit, played alongside Adam Pelech while Romanov, the hard-hitter and heat-sinking missile on the blue line, played alongside Ryan Pulock who compensated for his miscues in the neutral zone.
Heading into this season, the expectation is that Pulock and Pelech will reunite and form the Islanders’ top defensive pairing, as they have in previous seasons. The duo is expected to carry the unit once again but Dobson and Romanov are the two young defensemen that could not only emerge as the two best on the team but become the team’s top pair at some point in the season.
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Dobson is a two-way player who is still rounding out his defensive skills and is expected to remain the top playmaker from the point. Romanov, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, proved capable in the defensive zone as he could remove skaters from the puck with hard hits and block shots near the net. Romanov has a great shot and can become a reliable scorer from the point and if that happens, the Islanders can find consistent offensive production from one of their defensive pairings. Along with the goal-scoring, the two young defensemen can impact the game in a variety of ways and not only become the team’s best pair this season but for years to come.
Barzal Becomes a Point-Per-Game Player
For a short stint, Barzal was a point-per-game player. Through 18 games, he had 19 assists, and through 40 games he had 41 points. Then he, along with the rest of the Islanders’ offense, tailed off as he scored only seven points in the entire month of January. He found his footing shortly thereafter but his season ended early with an injury.
Barzal heads into this season with high expectations. He has a shooter on his line with Horvat on the team and is expected to not only remain a dynamic playmaker but start finding the back of the net himself, something he struggled to do for the first 19 games of last season. Barzal has all the pieces around him to succeed and become that elite forward that many hoped he’d become after winning the Calder Trophy in 2018.
With Horvat centering his line, Barzal will have plenty of opportunities to pile up the assists. Likewise, as he moves to the wing, he’ll have more open looks on the net and he’ll need to take advantage. Barzal can both lead the Islanders in points and more importantly become a point-per-game player. If that happens, he can also have a career year and surpass his personal best for points in a season which is the 85 he had in his rookie season.
Bo Horvat Scores 40 Goals
Horvat was on pace for a 40-goal season when he was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks during the All-Star Break as he had 31 goals in 49 games. He fell short of that mark in a disappointing second half, scoring only seven goals in 30 games. In his defense, the trade, the cross-country move, and the pressure to acclimate to a new system took a toll on the veteran center and his offensive production declined. Now, with a full training camp and time to prepare, Horvat is expected to have a big season.
The last time the Islanders had a 40-goal scorer was in the 2017-18 season when Anders Lee scored 40 goals as the team’s top finisher. Horvat has only scored 30 goals or more once in a season and it’s possible that last season was an outlier as he was playing with the hopes of fielding a big contract in the offseason. However, this can be the season Horvat not only proves why he received an eight-year extension but makes his mark as one of the best centers in the NHL.
Horvat will have Barzal on his line for the majority of the season and as a result, he’ll have more open shots in the center of the offensive zone. The two skaters showed flashes last season of what they could do alongside one another and in a full season, they can help form a dynamic top line for the Islanders. Horvat will find the back of the net early and often to help elevate the offense and suddenly, the case for 40 goals will be on everyone’s radar.
Other Islanders Bold Predictions
It’s not a bold prediction to say the power play will improve. Simply, it can’t be any worse than it was last season, scoring on only 15.77 percent of opportunities. However, it would be incredible for the unit to finish as a top-of-the-league power play. It’s also something that can happen within reason, especially if Horvat starts to find open shots in the middle of the offensive zone and the Islanders find a defenseman to operate things from the point.
Last season, one of the bold predictions was that the Islanders would have three skaters score 25 goals or more. Zach Parise was only four goals away from that happening. Heading into this season, it’s hard to see three skaters eclipse that mark, and with Parise not expected to be a part of the roster, it seems far-fetched. That said, the Islanders have multiple forwards capable of scoring 25 goals this season and can see at least three surpass that mark if not more.
The skater that is the x-factor in the Islanders’ offense is Oliver Wahlstrom who had high hopes last season but an injury left fans and the front office wondering what he could have provided. In a season where he looks to establish himself as a regular, expect Wahlstrom to have a breakout year. His shot can make him a 20-goal scorer but his passing skills can make him a top-six forward and he can add 20 assists as well to the offense.
The Islanders look like a team that can make the playoffs but won’t go far with the first round series fresh in a lot of minds. Last season, they were outplayed against the Carolina Hurricanes in a six-game series, resulting in an early playoff exit. This leaves room for one last bold prediction where the Islanders not only put together a strong season but defeat the Hurricanes in the playoffs on the way to a Stanley Cup title.