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Draft Decisions: Anderson for the 13th Pick?

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Josh Anderson

New offseason. Same storyline.

The New York Islanders need a top-flight winger, and after two long postseason runs, which certainly masked the offensive ineptness, the lackluster 2021-22 season exposed it all.

I don’t believe that the Islanders offense, which ranked 22nd (2.79 goals per game), played to the level they were capable of. Countless forwards underperformed, with some turning it up in the second half–ultimately too late to save the season.

But as the adage goes, “You are what you are.”

“I don’t think we’re gonna get better by just adding a player. We’re gonna get better by making hockey trades,” was the statement New York Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello shared with reporters following the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, in which he stood pat.

A few months later, after the Barry Trotz firing and the hiring of Lane Lambert, the game plan regarding making improvements has not changed. And as the 2022 NHL Draft approaches, what to do with the 13th overall pick becomes a significant question mark.

Draft prospects are unproven players, and we have seen how much different the NHL game is from that of juniors or overseas hockey. And for a team like the Islanders that do not have the time to wait for a player to develop, there is little reason to keep the 13th overall pick.

Regardless of how long you believe the New York Islanders window to win a Stanley Cup is, whether that be two to three years, three to five years, to each their own…the Islanders are missing that piece, that bonafide offensive weapon, that game-breaker.

Unfortunately, acquiring a player of that level is not an easy thing to do.

Exhibit A: Forward Artemi Panarin, who took less to sign with the cross-town New York Rangers back in the summer of 2019. 

During this free agency period, there is a chance that two elite forwards hit the market in Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau, two players the Islanders should surely be in on.

But what if Lamoriello can’t land that big fish?

The Islanders need to upgrade their forward group regardless, and that 13th overall pick could do just that without subtracting someone that is part of the “core.”

The Montreal Canadiens, like the Islanders, went from an extended postseason run in 2021 to missing the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canadiens did not just miss the playoffs. They finished last in the league and are a few years away from competing.

Right now, the Canadiens have zero cap space, and general manager Kent Hughes will have no choice but to unload some of his players.

28-year-old forward Josh Anderson may be a player on the move, as beat reporter Marco D’Amico, who covers the Montreal Canadiens for Montreal Hockey Now, wrote a piece on June 11, which stated that the Canadiens had already been bombarded with calls on Anderson’s availability.

The teams to have called are not known at this time.

Although he isn’t the flashy, big-fish forward the Islanders faithful wants, Josh Anderson is a player who would bolster this New York Islanders offense and can play both wings with a right-hand shot.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Anderson finished this past season with 19 goals and 13 assists on a weak Canadiens team in just 69 games. He missed 13 games with a lower-body injury and, if healthy for the full 82, was likely to crack the 20-goal mark for the second time in his eight-year career.

For many players, the stat line over the last few years due to COVID-19 does not tell the whole story, given the shortened seasons.

During the 56-game 2021-22 season, Anderson netted 17 goals and seven assists in 52 games, a 26-plus goal campaign if he stayed on that pace for a full 82.

This past season, his 19 goals in 69 games projects a 23-goal campaign over 82 games.

The Ontario-native shot the puck at a 12.6-percent clip in 2021-22, the third-highest mark in his career.

Not only can he produce on the offensive side of the puck, but his defensive zone play and his ability to be effective without the puck is another reason he would be a strong fit on the island.

The 6’3, 220 lb forward blocked 35 shots this past season, the second-highest total of his career. He laid the body 153 times, ranking second over his eight-year career.

Even if Lambert does not play the strict defensive style that Trotz demanded, the Islanders strength is their defense, and I doubt that the system will be changing very much.

On May 16, when Lane Lambert was introduced as the next head coach of the Islanders, he had this to say about his team’s identity.

“One thing that will never change is that, you know, our identity is as we want to be hard to play against, and that’s just who we are, and that will never change from our standpoint,” Lambert said back during his introduction.

Marco D’Amico had this to say about Josh Anderson’s game:

“Josh Anderson is a North-South power-forward that can take the puck up the ice in a hurry. He has a wicked wrist-shot and has a nose for the net; causing all kinds of mayhem in front of the net. Needs to play with a speedy and creative center to maximize his abilities. With a Mat Barzal, he could possibly hit 25-30 goals if healthy while providing strong, physical play.”

For those that watched the most recent IIHF Men’s World Championships, you know that Mat Barzal and Josh Anderson were linemates for a handful of games, alongside Columbus Blue Jackets young star Cole Sillinger.

Barzal and Anderson were not paired together until the final two preliminary-round games. Despite the results, Team Canada head coach Claude Julien liked what he saw from the two and elected to keep them together for the entirety of their run to the finals.

Team Canada ultimately lost 5-4 in overtime to Finland, with Barzal notching three assists, none to Anderson.

Despite the lack of point production alongside one another, the two certainly had some chemistry building and were dangerous, as their games complemented each other nicely.

D’Amico also told me that the Islanders 13th overall pick would be a solid framework for a deal.

Lane Lambert was asked about Mathew Barzal and what he means to the Islanders franchise after a season where there were often moving parts on his line, negatively impacting his point production.

“He is a key, key, key piece to the puzzle,” Lambert said. Does his point production, has it been down a little bit? Yes. But there’s other areas of the game that we’ve required and asked him to do and improve upon, and it will be a continuous process, and we’re, you know, I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Barzal needs players alongside him who play to his strengths and a player whose game is complimentary.

The thought was that Oliver Wahlstrom could be that guy and still could be, but he failed to take advantage of his chances this past season. The thought also was that Kyle Palmieri could be the forward for Barzal, yet he has established strong chemistry with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

One thing with Anderson is that he carries an average annual value (AAV) of $5.5 million over the next five years, with a moderate no-trade clause (2021-22 to 2024: 8-team no-trade list, 2023-27: 5-team no trade).

The New York Islanders have $12 million in cap space with one critical player to sign, on the rise defenseman Noah Dobson. The 22-year-old is coming off a breakout year, his first 50-point season, with 13 goals and 38 assists in 80 games. The restricted free agent will require around $4.5 million annually, depending on whether he takes a bridge deal.

That leaves the New York Islanders with around eight or so million available, and that’s before they offer Kieffer Bellows his RFA deal, which should be about $800,000.

If the Islanders were to acquire Josh Anderson, that would only leave them with around $3.5 million in space, and that’s if Lamoriello does not move a few undesirable contracts (i.e., Josh Bailey & his $5 million). If the Islanders wanted to give themselves more leeway but still acquire Josh Anderson, forward Anthony Beauvillier, a Quebec native, and his $4.15 AAV could head the other way, which would leave the Islanders still with roughly $6.65 million in space.

That’s if the Islanders have given up on Anthony Beauvillier, who regressed this past season.

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