Having options is never a bad thing when it comes to building a roster, especially when they’re familiar ones.
New York Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello is well aware of what Zach Parise and Pierre Engvall can bring to the team. But as Lamoriello constructs his roster this summer, he’ll have to choose between the two free agents-to-be.
The Islanders currently have two open positions on the left side. Matt Martin has the fourth-line spot locked down, while captain Anders Lee can play in a few different places. Lee skated on the top line last year, but Lamoriello would better serve the team by adding a more dynamic offensive wing to play with Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal, as Lee’s skill set is more well-suited for a second or third-line role. Plus, with Oliver Wahlstrom on pace to be ready in time for training camp after missing 47 games last year, there’s little space on the roster for both Parise and Engvall.
So who should Lamoriello choose? There are strong cases for and against both players.
Engvall made a name for himself after being traded to the Islanders at last year’s deadline. Alongside Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, Engvall was a catalyst for the team’s playoff push, as his speed was an element sorely missing from the Islanders’ lineup beforehand. However, Engvall struggled to consistently produce on offense before joining the Islanders and only played 24 total games with the team. That isn’t nearly enough of a sample size for Lamoriello to determine which version of Engvall the Islanders will get next year. Regardless, the 27-year-old is going to be the more expensive option as he will command a multi-year deal and have far more suitors than Parise in free agency.
That’s not to say Parise is a bad option by any stretch, though. In his two years with the Islanders, Parise has been a model for the rest of the team to follow, playing on the power play and penalty kill while not missing a single game. Parise may not be the skilled player he once was, but he’s found a way to adapt his game and kept himself in the lineup well into his veteran years. But while what Parise has accomplished these last two seasons is admirable, time catches up to everyone. Parise will be 39 when the season begins in October.
Both players have connections to Lamoriello dating back to their pre-Islanders days. As general manager of the New Jersey Devils, Lamoriello drafted Parise in the first round of the 2003 draft. Eleven years later, he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs while Engvall was a prospect in their system. Lamoriello eventually brought both players to the Islanders, but even he’s said loyalty only goes so far.
“Loyalty will never get in the way of impeding progress or making whichever decisions I have a responsibility to make,” Lamoriello said a few weeks ago. “My priority is doing whatever is best for the team.”
According to NYI Hockey Now readers, what’s best for the team is re-signing Engvall and letting Parise walk while bringing in another free agent to play on the top line.
How would you like the #Isles to line up on the left wing starting next year? (Order from the first line to the third)
— Andrew Fantucchio (@A_Fantucchio) June 15, 2023
Ultimately, I agree. As much as Parise has meant to the Islanders these last two seasons, Engvall should be the priority this summer. Parise was an excellent leader in the locker room, but the Islanders have more than enough veteran players to fill that role.
What the Islanders don’t have enough of is speed and the ability to generate offense. It’s exactly what Engvall did for them in the latter half of last season and what he can do again if they bring him back.