The New York Islanders are set to begin their play-in series against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1 when the NHL returns. If the Islanders want to win this series, they must be solid defensively, but the offense needs to be ready to go as well. Specifically, the second line has to take the pressure off of the first line if the Islanders are to score more than two goals a night.
The Isles top line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee is a strong threat, but they won’t get anything going if the Panthers are able to shut them down. Barzal is definitely a key piece if the Isles want to win the series, but he cannot be the only piece. He has recorded at least one point in 27 of New York’s 35 wins.
That’s great and all, but that means there are only a total of eight times where he wasn’t able to record a point and the Islanders were still able to win the game. That’s not very encouraging from a depth standpoint. Simply put, the second line must be consistent.
Brock Nelson is one of those players that has become much more consistent over the years. He has one of the best wrist shots on the team and has become more confident in his puck handling ability.
Nelson has had a tremendous season at the face-off dot and won 615 out of 1188 face-offs for 51.8 percent. That percentage is good for second on the team behind Casey Cizikas on the fourth line who has won 53.5 percent of his face-offs. Take that with a grain of salt though because while Cizikas may have a better percentage, but Nelson has taken 500 more face-offs than Cizikas and won 247 more. The 2019-20 season is Nelson’s first season with a 50 percent or more face-off rating and his third straight season of 47 percent or higher.
In terms of scoring, Nelson has been top-notch. The Minnesota native has 54 points in 68 games which, even with the COVID-19 pause canceling the end of the regular season, is still his career-best in points. On that pace, Nelson would have recorded about 65 points. When Nelson is a scoring threat, he makes the people around him better. If the opposing defense pinches towards Nelson, that can leave one of, if not both, of the wingers open and set them up for easy tap-in goals.
The six-foot-three center can also play physically in front of the net and try to pick up deflection goals. No matter how he plays, Nelson is an integral part of the Islanders’ offense.
The Islanders drafted Anthony Beauvillier as someone who could play both center and winger. He has been exponentially better on the wing during his tenure with the Islanders and he has found a home on the second line. The former first-round pick was bounced around on different lines with different combinations for the past three seasons.
Beauvillier had 39 points in 68 games this season with 18 goals. That’s a career-high in points and he was on pace to hit 47 points. In the last three seasons, he has shown that he has a goal-scoring touch by scoring 21 goals, 18 and then 18 again this season. That extra finisher is something the Isles have been looking for.
Is Beauvillier a 40-goal scorer like Vladimir Tarasenko? No, but he doesn’t have to be that. There’s such an emphasis on team defense with the Islanders that the extra goal here and there from the second line can go a long way. In addition to his scoring touch is his timeliness. Beauvillier has 66 regular-season goals as a New York Islander but 11 of them are game-winning goals – that’s 16 percent.
The Quebec native is up for a contract extension at the end of the 2020-21 season. So the Isles don’t have to worry about Beauvillier just yet. However, money is already tight with the recent acquisition of J.G. Pageau and the arrival of goaltender Ilya Sorokin.
Josh Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander on the team, will need to make an impact. Islander fans watched Bailey struggle to get points in the early years and saw him grow into someone they were proud to serenade to the tune of “Hey Baby” by DJ Otzi. The former ninth-overall pick is steady in his own zone defensively and helps create plays up the ice on offense.
Bailey’s two-way game is one of the best on the team every season and having someone that can play both sides of the puck is a tremendous benefit. He is on a relatively team-friendly deal at $5 million per year until 2024. For the number of things he does well, I’d say that’s a great contract to have. One of his highlights in the last two seasons was scoring the overtime game-winning goal in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Bailey is not only a talented forward but a locker room leader as well. He’s been with the Islanders since he was drafted in 2008 and will be a key player to the franchise moving forward.
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The second line is a balanced mix of scoring and defensively responsible forwards. The three mentioned above were paired together against the exhibition game against the Rangers on July 29 and are likely to be paired together against Florida. Nelson has become a consistent scoring threat while Beauvillier can be the finisher and Bailey can play both sides responsibly. If the second line is ready to go, it could be a nightmare for the Panthers defense core to handle and would give the Isles a significant edge.