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Tarasenko Gone: 3 Options to Strengthen Islanders Forward Depth

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New York Islanders, Tyler Motte

Last week, NYI Hockey Now put together a list of star players that general manager Lou Lamoriello should target, if the New York Islanders are going all-in on this season. While they still could use another top player, the need for depth forwards is at the top of the list, especially if this team finds a way to sneak into the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One of those star players has come off the list as the New York Rangers acquired F Vladimir Tarasenko and D Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blue in exchange for F Sammi Blais, D Hunter Skinner, a conditional 2023 first-round pick, and a 2024 condition fourth-round pick.

With Hudson Fasching back, the Islanders have 13 forwards that would be ready to go when play resumes on Feb. 6.

Cal Clutterbuck and Oliver Wahlstrom are out indefinitely, so for this article, we are to assume they will not be back this season.

Let’s say someone else on the Islanders does get hurt from now until Apr. 12, the last game of the NHL season. Who is ready to step in, in the midst of a playoff race?

With Aatu Räty now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, there are a few names in Bridgeport that could get the chance to come up and play meaningful minutes for New York if need be, but is that how the Islanders want to operate.

For as good of a season as 22-year-old Ruslan Iskhakov is having, with nine goals and 22 assists and being named an AHL All-Star, there’s a reason why other names were chosen over him when the Islanders needed help in the first half.

It’s clear that the Islanders do not think Iskhakov is ready to help them yet, which is just fine, as he is in his first season in the AHL.

William Dufour, who made his NHL debut playing just 6:48 against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, showed that he has much to learn before coming back up with New York. He does not seem like a trusted option down the stretch, which is fine.

When a center was needed, Räty was recalled rather than a player with NHL experience in Otto Koivula. Arnaud Durandeau, a 24-year-old forward, has 11 goals and 20 assists for Bridgeport but has yet to get a chance at the NHL level.

One could even go as far as to say that Simon Holmstrom, who has played 26 games for the New York Islanders this season, is a question mark for playoff use as he is still proving that he can be a force on both sides of the puck. 

He did score on Tuesday night against the Seattle Kraken.

Here are three players that the Islanders should target to add much-needed depth to a thin roster.

Ivan Barbashev

As the St. Louis Blues continue to fall in the standings, all the trade talk will surround star Vladimir Tarasenko. However, 27-year-old winger Ivan Barbashev could be a key (and cheaper) add for the New York Islanders.

Barbashev has nine goals and 15 assists in 51 games this season and has laid the body 105 times. 

He’s been skating on the Blues’ second line, with Noel Acciari and Tarasenko, and could be a player that could prosper alongside Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal, as there is still a need at the left-wing position. 

Barbashev is known for playing a responsible 200-foot game, which Lane Lambert, and any NHL coach, appreciates. He also can kill penalties, and he’s on pace to set a new career high in shots on goal. Not to mention he can play all three positions anywhere in the lineup. 

Per Puckpedia, Barbashev is a pending unrestricted free agent with a salary-cap hit of $2.25 million.

Tyler Motte

With the Ottawa Senators not having the year they envisioned after adding Claude Giroux this offseason and Cam Talbot in goal, they will likely be selling at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, and Tyler Motte is a name to watch for.

The 27-year-old center, not a known goal scorer, has three goals and six assists on the season but is a hustler.

In 34 games, Motte has 33 blocks and 73 hits, with a salary-cap hit of $1.3 million

He is a pending unrestricted free agent, as this would be a rental move by New York.

As for where he fits in the lineup, he provides more than a Ross Johnston would on the fourth line. Motte fits the Islanders’ M.O. as a gritty forward with speed, a strong understanding of the defensive side of the puck, and likes to play the body despite standing at five-foot-10 and weighing 192 pounds.

“He’s smart and can hold onto pucks, and he’s really good defensively. He’s contributed with a short-handed goal, and he’s shown spurts in his career where he can have offense. We’re a better team when he plays,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said.

Motte was instrumental in the New York Rangers playoff run a season ago.

He’s been out with a finger injury, but the Senators are hopeful he will return after the All-Star break. The Canucks traded Motte to the Senators this past offseason for a fourth-round pick, so that’s likely around what the asking price will be.

JUJHAR KHAIRA

The Chicago Blackhawks are in full tank mode, meaning players with any value will be out the door at the trade deadline. Forward Jujhar Khaira is the definition of a depth forward and would be a cheap option at the deadline.

In 29 games, Khaira has three goals and three assists, with 51 hits. Albeit not a player that can play a tremendous amount of minutes, he would be a solid fourth-line option as he gets in hard on the forecheck and understands how to play his role effectively. 

Khaira has missed the last eight games for the Blackhawks with a lower-body injury and is currently on Injured Reserve. We shall see if he is healthy enough at the deadline.

He is a pending UFA with a salary cap hit of $975,000.

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