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Islanders Trade Creates Imbalance, Youthful Blue Line Issues



New York Islanders, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock
New York Islanders Adam Pelech & Ryan Pulock (Photo-via New York Islanders Instagram post on March 5th)

The New York Islanders have only made one move, officially, this offseason: the acquisition of 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens on Draft night. With Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock a strong one-two punch, Romanov and another 22-year-old defenseman, Noah Dobson, gives the Islanders a strong top-four on the backend with Scott Mayfield as the no. five.

But what if that was not how first-year NHL coach Lane Lambert elected to align his defense?

Could we see Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock separated?

Noah Dobson proved this past season that he has the tools and the confidence to be the Islanders’ no. 1 offensive defenseman. And at 22 years old, the former 12th overall pick is still learning and growing into his role.

With Zdeno Chara likely hanging up the skates (no official announcement yet), Noah Dobson will probably have a new defensive partner for the fourth time in as many years at the NHL level.

Given his offensive upside with improvements still needed on the defensive side of the puck, it makes a ton of sense to put the best defensive defenseman alongside him.

And that would be Adam Pelech.

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Noah Dobson and Adam Pelech played 120:22 minutes with one another in 2021-22 at five-on-five. Over that span, the New York Islanders owned a Corsi For % of 51.09, meaning they controlled possession. Despite opponents outshooting the Islanders 65-61, the two helped limit the opposition to just two goals, while the Islanders scored five.

It was not a perfect duo, as the Islanders allowed 22 high-danger chances against with just 16 of their own and had an Expected Goals Against of 5.48. That means either Ilya Sorokin or Semyon Varlamov came up clutch at times to bail out the Islanders when these two were on the ice.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that Dobson is a legitimate transitioner, and Pelech could focus on being his usual shutdown self. Despite Pelech’s All-Star status, I think his offensive outburst and the need for the Islanders to generate more offense from their defensive players impacted his defensive play at times. That’s not to say it was his fault–just how the season and strategy played out.

It’s certainly a route the New York Islanders could take without it being a detriment to the backend.

If this were to be the case, Ryan Pulock could skate with Alexander Romanov.

Romanov, by all accounts, is a physical defenseman who is relatively strong in his own zone. He has some offense in his game but has yet to show it consistently at the NHL level.

The lack of goals does not mean Romanov can’t help offensively, as his skating and passing ability will allow him to help with the transition game, something the Islanders lacked with Ryan Pulock out of the lineup.

Pulock, known for having a cannon of a shot, struggled to produce before his injury. He went 25 games before his first goal of the season and only had five assists over that span.

He finished his season with five goals and 16 assists but is a player who had reached 10 goals before, which came in the 68-game 2019-20 campaign. He also had 25 assists that year.

Romanov, entering just his third NHL season, could benefit from a seven-year NHL vet alongside him in Pulock.

Now, it’s completely understandable for the fans that want Pelech and Pulock kept together.

Since 2018-19, the year that Barry Trotz took over as head coach, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock have been a pair. Before the start of the 2021-22 season, both players inked long-term extensions with the Islanders.

Pelech’s came in at $46 million and is signed until 2029, while Pulock’s came in at $49.2 million, with his contract expiring in 2030.

These two were among the most underrated defensive pairings in all of hockey, but this past season was weird. Adam Pelech was an All-Star for the first time in his NHL career, posting career-highs in assists (25) and points (28).

Ryan Pulock missed 26 games, 25 due to a lower-body injury and one due to the stomach bug the last week of the season.

Early on in the 2021-22 campaign, Barry Trotz, out of necessity, had to separate Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock as Zdeno Chara was struggling mighty alongside Noah Dobson.

Pulock was then paired with Chara, Pelech was paired with Scott Mayfield, and Andy Greene skated alongside Noah Dobson.

It was not long after, due to Pulock’s injury, that Dobson was back with Chara, and the two figured things out.

While Pulock was out of the lineup, Pelech skated with Mayfield. Even when Pulock found his way back in the lineup on Feb. 2, it took 15 games before Trotz reunited him with Pelech.

It was never a question of if for the duo, but when.

The New York Islanders’ defensive play will be critical to the team’s ability to bounce back in 2022-23 after missing this past postseason.

Dobson and Romanov will make mistakes in 2022-23, and with two veterans by their side in Pelech and Pulock, they have safety blankets as well as mentors.

Now, the Islanders could always start the season with Pelech and Pulock together, Romanov and Dobson together, and always make adjustments.

When training camp rolls around, it will be interesting to see who Lambert decides to start with, but in my opinion, separating the two elite defensemen could be rather beneficial to the overall success of the franchise.

All statistics in the article are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.