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Islanders Holmstrom Off IR, Why His Return is Critical

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New York Islanders forward Simon Holmstrom (Courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders forward Simon Holmstrom (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)

New York Islanders 21-year-old forward Simon Holmstrom was one of those call-ups that took advantage of his ice time. Despite just one NHL goal and eight total shots over 14 NHL games, averaging 11:29 TOI per game, his defensive play was electric.

But on Dec. 23, a nasty lower-body hit by Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett forced Simon Holmstrom to go on Injured Reserve and miss six games, and the Islanders went 3-3-0 in his absence. He may not have been the make-or-break player for the Islanders on their rough road trip, but his strong hockey IQ and defense may have helped, especially early in games.

The good news for the Islanders is that Holmstrom was a full participant in his return to practice on Monday and took line rushes alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.

“I thought he looked good,” New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “He’s been skating, and today was a day when we could integrate him into the group and see where he went from there.”

It was just a matter of time before the Islanders activated him off IR.

Well, in the late hours of Monday, the Islanders did just that. And with a roster spot open for now, until Kyle Palmieri returns, there is no need to make any roster moves.

The majority of Holmstrom’s minutes at the NHL level have come alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zach Parise (71:20). He did play 40 minutes with Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom with two goals for and no goals against, and a .08 Expected Goals Against, per MoneyPuck.com.

His first NHL assist (secondary) came in the Islanders 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets back on Nov. 25, Holmstrom’s second career game, as a defensive-zone board pass sprung Barzal up the ice before a Wahlstrom snipe.

Wahlstrom is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Barzal, despite missing Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames with a lower-body injury but was on the ice for practice, and Lambert said that he was expected to play Tuesday.

When Holmstrom and Barzal have been on the ice together this season, 48 minutes, the Islanders have been outshot 21-17, but they have out-chanced their opponents 16-10, outscoring them 2-0, per NaturalStatrick.com.

“I like what he’s doing. I like a lot about what he’s doing,” Lambert said back on Dec. 4. “Obviously, we’d like to get a few more shots on goal, there’s no question about it, but he’s had some good opportunities.”

“‘lt’ll come for him.”

On Dec. 17 against the Vegas Golden Knights, Holmstrom scored his first NHL goal, and over his last four games before the injury, he recorded four shots on goal and hit a few posts but used his reach and strength to the slot to create chances. He did pass up a few glorious looks on odd-man rushes, but he showed more offensive upside than he did in his first 10 NHL games.

“We’ve been talking about how well he’s been playing regardless. He’s been put in some pretty key situations for us. And I mean, that’s a real pretty one he got for his first one, you know what I mean?” Parise said following the game. “And we’ve all been there, we all remember those ones, and so, guys, we’re really happy for him. It was a great move.”

This season, Holmstrom has six blocks, nine takeaways with just three giveaways, and has yet to take a penalty at the NHL level.

While Adam Pelech remains the critical need, given his defensive prowess as one of the best shutdown defensemen in the sport, Holmstrom is a player that can help alleviate the loss.

Pelech has resumed skating, as head coach Lane Lambert shared Monday that he had been skating the last three days, which is a positive sign.

But with Pelech still out and no timetable for his return, as he will miss his 14th game Tuesday night, the Islanders need help defensively–especially after that road trip.

Holmstrom plays that defensive brand of hockey, and as he did in his first NHL game, helping to shut down the Oilers, he will try to do the same as the Islanders host the fourth-best offensive in hockey in the Dallas Stars, who are averaging 3.51 goals per game.

“I know I keep saying, and I sound like a broken record, but his intelligence, it’s high, and he’s putting himself in the right position to not only make plays offensively but makes plays defensively, was what we were seeing [in Bridgeport]. And I think we’re seeing more of that here,” Lambert said early on in his first NHL stint.

But those words have held true so far, and that’s why it’s critical the Islanders get him back as they try to right the wrongs of their road trip.

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