The New York Islanders were able to pull off the biggest trade of the season so far. The deal brings Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to Long Island and dramatically changes the way the Islanders’ lineup will look going forward.
The pair come to the Island as a duo of versatile forwards that can help the Islanders in several different areas of their game and gives head coach Barry Trotz more flexibility with his lineup.
Since Palmieri and Zajac are local, they won’t have to go through any quarantine before joining the New York Islanders and they will be on the ice for morning skate on Thursday. General manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters during a conference call that whether or not they would be in the lineup on Thursday night against Philadelphia would be up to head coach Barry Trotz.
“It will be a coaching decision as to the next step,” Lamoriello said.
Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac address the media following today’s trade.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 8, 2021
It’s hard to imagine the two wouldn’t be in the lineup on Thursday night as the Islanders look to take sole possession of first in the East Division — with a little help from Boston. So what exactly will that look like should Palmieri and Zajac be in the lineup when the puck drops?
The first thought that comes to mind is simply putting Palmieri in Leo Komarov’s spot as the top-line left wing alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Understandably, Palmieri traditionally plays the right wing so that could pose a little bit of a challenge at first since the left side is not his natural position.
However, playing alongside two offensively gifted players like Barzal and Eberle could help increase Palmieri’s offensive output, which has been hindered this year due to playing on a struggling New Jersey squad. Palmieri had 20-plus goal seasons in his five prior years in New Jersey.
Zajac would likely fit right into that third line for the New York Islanders and that would mean that Jean-Gabriel Pageau would move to the wing. Oliver Wahlstrom would remain on the third line where he has had plenty of success with Pageau. There might be some inclination to move Walhstrom up in the lineup, but he has developed good chemistry with Pageau, and having another veteran forward alongside him would be a huge plus as well for the young sniper.
Another possible scenario would be to see Trotz have Palmieri and Zajac appear on the same line on Thursday, likely the third line with Pageau on the wing. Newsday’s Andrew Gross was the first to suggest this as a possibility and it would make sense to keep them together early on as they adjust to life as Islanders.
That would mean Wahlstrom would move up to the second line with Palmieri take the third-line right wing and Zajac take the center spot as Pageau still shifts to the left side.
Nobody is replacing Lee, but I think Palmieri is going to look real nice next to Barzal if they play him on his left. The depth up & down at fwd now is fantastic w/an extra C option if a guy like Zeek gets hurt, which is just a possibility you have to acknowledge. #isles
— Sean Cuthbert (@seanyhockey) April 8, 2021
Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier could fill the two left-side slots in the top six, with Beauvillier possibly taking over the top-line wing considering his history and chemistry with Mathew Barzal.
One downside of moving Pageau out of the center spot would be that they lose someone who has been very successful in the faceoff circle. Pageau has a 56.6 percent faceoff success rate this season compared to Zajac’s 49.9 percent.
If the New York Islanders wanted to keep that intact, Trotz could opt to put Zajac on the wing on the third line as well. Or if he wanted to keep Zajac at his natural position then moving Nelson to a wing spot and having Zajac take his spot as the second-line center could make sense as well.
Nelson has a 49.5 percent success rate in the faceoff circle this season.
At the end of the day, what the Islanders have is options, and good ones at that. The days of Leo Komarov playing on the top line, even though he has performed well during his time there, will come to an end. And the added depth means the Islanders have talented options in Kieffer Bellows, Michael Dal Colle when he returns from injury, Komarov and even Ross Johnston.
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