Good afternoon Islander fans, and welcome to the first of many New York Islanders mailbags I will be doing from here on out.
Thank you to everyone who sent their questions to me, as I will try to answer as many as I can each week when it comes to the New York Islanders.
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Before we get to your questions, here is just a little about my experience in hockey. Besides growing up playing goalie in both roller hockey and ice hockey, I have been passionate about the New York Islanders for as long as I can remember. I graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland last May with a Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management and a minor in Communications. Sports journalism and sports media is the career path I am trying to pursue.
I currently cover the Islanders for NYI Hockey Now and Puck Prose and have had previous work published on NBCSports.com. I currently am the Co-host on The Backcheck, a hockey podcast covering the Islanders, Rangers, and the rest of the National Hockey League, with live shows every Wednesday and prerecorded shows every Sunday.
For everyone that has followed me along on my journey, I thank you for all the support over the last few years. Now let’s get to some questions.
New York Islanders Mailbag: More games for Ilya Sorokin, Nelson’s slow start
Playing every other day essentially the rest of the way, I think it’s time to get Sorokin some more games as Varly is starting to show some signs of fatigue IMO. Do you agree? (@cmtesta1)
For Semyon Varlamov, he is having a stellar season for the New York Islanders. He comes into the game tonight with a .925 SV% and a 2.05 GAA with three shutouts. Varlamov played well in the loss back on Saturday but did not look as sharp as he has looked previously. After getting off to his ultra-hot start, he has come back to earth a bit. Given the way rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin started his NHL career, it seemed that Head Coach Barry Trotz would have to rely on his veteran netminder this season. But Sorokin has shown exponential growth over his minimal starts this year, as his last one saw him get rewarded with his first NHL win in a 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
Given that result, I think there is more confidence in Sorokin’s ability going forward. While I do not believe we will see a 50/50 split moving forward, I agree that it is time to get Sorokin more starts. That is not a knock on Varlamov’s ability, but we saw last year how fatigue can play a part when overworked. We saw it in the postseason after he set a new franchise Playoff shutout streak. For Varlamov to be at the top of his game, he will need rest. As long as Sorokin plays well and the team wins with him in net, he will see an uptick in his starts as the season progresses.
Thoughts on Oliver Wahlstrom, and do you think he can develop into the goal scorer the Islanders need? (@KC1798)
The Islanders’ promising 20-year old star Oliver Wahlstrom has played very well this season. While he only has one goal under his belt at the NHL level, he is heavily involved in the offense each night. When he has the puck on his stick, he has a shoot-first mentality, which this team has longed for. In the 10 games he has played this season, he has recorded at least a shot in every single outing except for one. In the Islanders’ latest loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, Wahlstrom was one of the best players on the ice, as he was noticeable throughout the entirety of the contest. I genuinely think that Wahlstrom can be the goalscorer this team needs him to be with the right players. Eventually, it is a no-brainer to think that he will be playing on the top line with Mat Barzal someday. He needs to continue to work hard in all zones, and he will start to get rewarded. I have a feeling once one goal goes clean in (not one deflected like his first one), goals will begin to come at a higher rate.
What are your thoughts on Trotz’s comments about Bellows, and you think we’ll see him again any time soon? (@justincarp55)
So after the game against the Penguins on Thursday, Head Coach Barry Trotz essentially called out his young forward for not taking advantage of his playing time and that when fringe players are given the opportunity, they need to make it count. Kieffer Bellows was not in the lineup against the Penguins on Saturday, as expected. I have no problem with what Trotz said, and while some may have thought he crossed a line, his job as a coach is to get the best out of his players and teach them the NHL game.
Sometimes all a player needs is a wake-up call. With Wahlstrom solidifying himself in the lineup, and Michael Dal Colle (day-to-day) playing the best hockey we have seen him play, Bellows will have to wait sometime before seeing more NHL action. If the Islanders can start winning again after dropping their last two games, it could be a while until we see Bellows back in there. When Bellows gets that next opportunity, I suspect the effort level will be through the roof.
Any concern with Nelson with his struggles so far this season? (@EverydayIsles)
Brock Nelson has been the best scorer for this Islander offense since Head Coach Barry Trotz took the helm. Last season, we saw the team’s second-most goals and played quite well in the extended postseason run. But this season has been a relatively slow one, as he just scored his first five on five goals of the season in the 3-2 loss to the Penguins on Saturday. However, he seems to be breaking out of his sluggish start, as he has three goals and an assist in his last five games. For many, his slow start was somewhat concerning since the Islanders only saw their top line produce offensively. But for me, Nelson has always been a streaky NHL player, and that has two sides to it. When he is on, he is uncontainable, but when he is off, he is invisible. The goal is to get him to be a more consistent player each night, even if it is not scoring goals.
Who do you think needs to step it up on the isles? (@vocaLYSS) What kind of pace do you think Beauvillier is on coming back from injury? (@RachelNHL)
Let’s kill two questions with one stone here, eh? While Brock Nelson may seem like a great candidate, this team’s player who needs to step up is Anthony Beauvillier. After a slow start, then missing nine games with an upper-body injury, Beauvillier has been back for the last three games. He picked up an assist this past Saturday for his first point in his previous seven games and is looking to find his game, the game we saw in the postseason where he recorded 14 points in 22 games. Scoring, particularly depth scoring, has been a weakness for the Islanders this season. Beauvillier is too talented not to produce offensively, whether he is slated on the second or third lines.
But just like Nelson, Beauvillier is a streaky individual. The team’s success does not ride on him alone, but points have to come more often than once every seven appearances. After this season, Beauvillier is a UFA, and with the Islanders’ salary cap issues, they need to know what kind of player Beauvillier will be going forward. This is his fifth year in the NHL, and he has been a great addition to the lineup the last three seasons, and his skillset is a game-changer. He needs to stay healthy and bring his legs every night to be effective. As he shakes off the rust from his injury, the 23-year old will look to start lighting the lamp and get into a scoring groove.