Well, simply stated, one of the youngest rosters in the NHL had a predictably inconsistent season. A mid-season tailspin that resulted in a 3-12-1 stretch ultimately cost the Islanders a playoff spot. But alas, the fact the playoffs were actually part of the conversation at the Coliseum this year brought some life to the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike for the first time in years.
An 18-point improvement in the standings (61 to 79) has Islanders’ fans rightfully excited about next season and the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft in a couple of months will only add to the anticipation for the 2010-11 season.
However, as a result, the bar will be raised for this club next year and the expectations will be far greater than they’ve been the last few seasons. Making the playoffs shouldn’t only be “our goal” as Garth Snow said last week as the club broke for the summer, it should be mandatory. Anything less will clearly be looked at as a step backwards for this bunch.
We’ll take a brief look at the players that were responsible for the big improvement this season as well as those that weren’t as we present the 2009-10 New York Islander report cards.
Center: Josh Bailey – Age: 20
It is clear that Bailey’s body is catching up to his skill set and thus, so is his confidence level. As his 6-foot-1-inch frame has filled out a bit more his physical skills are now a closer match to his hockey skills, which were never in question. If Scott Gordon can get this kid to engage on a more consistent basis he can truly be a top flight player in the NHL – possibly as soon as next season. Tenacity needs to be the watch word for Bailey.
Center: John Tavares – Age: 19
A spectacular beginning and rejuvenated finish showed that this 19-year-old, first overall pick from Mississauga, Ontario, can certainly play in the NHL. The rough stretch in-between proved nothing more than the fact he is still a teenager.
Think about it, despite a 30+ game stretch where he all but vanished, Tavares still finished tied for the rookie lead in goals and just one point back of points leader Matt Duchene. The Isles have themselves a dandy in JT, who’s overall game improved noticeably the last month of the season.
Center: Frans Nielsen – Age: 26
Can’t figure this guy out as there are nights he flies all over the rink and looks dazzling. Unfortunately, there are far more nights where you don’t even know he’s dressed until half-way through the third period.
A 12-goal season from the 26-year-old Dane just isn’t getting it done – especially when you know there is so much more to like about his game. Still seems generally uninvolved too many nights and that’s something Gordon needs to address next season.
Center: Rob Schremp – Age: 23
Not a bad waiver pick-up for the Isles as Schremp may have found a home here. The 23-year-old former first-round pick (Edmonton, 2004) reminds us of another former first rounder in old-timer Billy Harris (1972) with all those herky-jerky moves. While he doesn’t exactly posses the size the Isles lack up front, the offensive up-side is worth another look next season. We simply haven’t seen enough yet to post a legit grade but will admit we like what we’ve seen thus far.
Center: Doug Weight – Age: 38
It’s such a shame that Islanders fans never got to see Weight for more than just a handful of games at a clip during his time here. Injuries derailed his stay on Long Island but simply stated, when he was in the line-up the team was significantly better. A calming influence both on the ice and in the locker room, it looks like his great career might have come to end.
Left Wing: Sean Bergenheim – Age: 26
See Frans Nielsen, as you get the same feeling watching Bergenheim play. You know the ability to be an impact player is there, but he’ s five years into an NHL career that seems stuck in second gear. When he’s plugged in, as he was the last couple of weeks, the speed and tenacity are impressive. However, Bergy simply has trouble finishing as his 10-goal season would attest.
Left Wing: Blake Comeau – Age: 24
Everyone in the organization was left wanting more from Comeau as the season ended. The player Gordon knew was hiding inside appeared in the second half and the team has to be excited about the chemistry Comeau showed with Tavares. Strong on the puck and significantly more physical without it, the left wing has become an interesting part of the rebuilding equation heading into next season.