Earlier this week New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz indicated that he was planning to put out a more consistent lineup than the one mixing and matching he did during the team’s five-game road trip.
That was great news, especially for a team that could benefit from line stability, but the Islanders need to go a step further when it comes to bolstering their lineup.
It’s time that they give Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom the opportunity to sink or swim.
The modus operandi of Trotz and Lou Lamoriello has been to go with veteran players or grit players instead of their younger prospects in the past. That’s held somewhat true again this season with decisions to put Leo Komarov, Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston in the lineup at different times through their first nine games.
But the Islanders have clearly looked their best when Bellows and Wahlstrom have been in the lineup together.
For example, Trotz opted to put the two with Jean-Gabriel Pageau last Saturday in Philadelphia and it went as well as you could have hoped it would have. As a line Bellows, Pageau and Wahlstrom had an 87.50 Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For the percentage of 83.33 in 6:10 of 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The three had a combined four shots on net in that game against Philadelphia, with Bellows registering three of them.
The Thursday prior to that, the trio played together in Washington as well. The game was Wahlstrom’s season debut and the 20-year-old scored his first NHL goal 9:50 into the game. On the ice with him at the time was Bellows.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) January 29, 2021
It’s clear just from the small sample size that the two together, along with Pageau on a line could create the spark the Islanders need. The five-game stretch set the Islanders back early the season, now sitting last in the eight-team East Division.
The reliance on veteran players or guys with more experience at the NHL level is not a bad thing, and there is a case to be made that give younger talent the chance to develop a little longer has its benefits. During Trotz’s first year with the Islanders, he wanted to promote Devon Toews to the NHL roster right out of camp, but was talked out of it by Lou Lamoriello.
When the Islanders called him up later that year, he was ready for the NHL and never went back to Bridgeport after that.
Right now, however, is not the time to be gun-shy about giving Bellows and Wahlstrom minutes. The islanders need more than anything players with offensive-minded skill. The two of them possess that and they’ve both been working on playing responsibly away from the puck as well.
Of course, there will be some growing pains and mistakes along the way, but the benefits outweigh the risks of giving them consistent time in the lineup. And other organizations have shown why you give your young prospects a chance.
The Islanders got an up-close-and-personal look at it last year during the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two of Tampa Bay’s key contributors — Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli — were given chances early on in their young careers to crack a veteran ladened lineup.
They quickly became impact players for Tampa Bay.
Going back further to a team the Islanders are familiar with, just look at Jake Guentzel and the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship in 2016-17. It was another example of a veteran ladened lineup that ended up benefiting from an infusion of young blood.
Guentzel would end up leading the NHL with 13 goals and tied the league rookie record with 21 points in 25 games during the playoffs.
The circumstances are a bit different, understandably, and part of the lineup gymnastics the Islanders have had to do are in part because of their current cap crunch. But now seems as good as any to figure out a way to have Wahlstrom and Bellows in the lineup regularly.
Dal Colle, Johnston and Komarov certainly bring more experience to the lineup than either of Bellows or Wahlstrom. However, that hasn’t changed the results for the Islanders much during their five-game skid, and when the team has looked at its best the two young guns were in the lineup.
Austin Czarnik made a case as well to be in the conversation after a good outing on Sunday against Philadelphia, but it’s time the team let it ride with Bellows and Wahlstrom.