The New York Islanders embark on their franchise’s 50th season of existence. Like many other franchises, the Islanders have a history of ups and downs. The players, coaches, and memories will last forever, even if some fans would like to forget.
Last season was not a season to remember on the ice, but it was a momentous one for the franchise. The Islanders opened their new, permanent home last November when they opened UBS Arena at Belmont.
The foundation has been set for this franchise to regain its championship form and the new season begins this week.
The Islanders are coming off a failed season to make the playoffs after ending the two prior seasons in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
With the team essentially the same as last season, what will change?
Two players set to start crucial career seasons will be a big answer to whether the Islanders can return to the playoffs.
Islanders: Two Underrated Players That Could Make or Break the Season
Bellows was a first-round draft pick of the Islanders in 2016. Since being selected 19th overall, Bellows has yet to put together a consistency worthy of a full-time NHL position.
Last season, Bellows had an extended leash due to improved play and the combination of injuries and covid absences. The result was a career-high 45 games played.
Over the span of three seasons, Bellows has played in just 67 games, totaling 25 points and 11 goals.
At times Bellows was one of the best players on the ice for the Islanders. The offensively challenged team welcomed the youthful energy and shooting prowess of Bellows.
The big issue with Bellows has always been his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone. Former coach, Barry Trotz, was less inclined to play youth due to these characteristics. Now that Lane Lambert is at the helm, it gives Bellows a fresh start and some confidence.
Signing a one-year contract this summer, it appears Bellows is at an impasse with the franchise that drafted him. Bellows will need to produce and produce consistently if he hopes to have a longer-term contract.
The Islanders will need Bellows to develop and thrive under Lambert for them to bring a different type of style to the game. The group in general is getting older and slower, but Bellows never takes a shift off and is willing to shoot the puck from anywhere.
Bellows has had a good training camp and appears to have solidified a spot among the 12 forwards to start the season.
A successful season for Bellows would propel the Islanders’ confidence and place in the standings.
Salo is another player that got a bigger opportunity last season due to injuries and Covid.
Salo was the Islanders’ 46th draft pick in the second round of the 2017 NHL draft. Last season was Salo’s first in North America and started off in Bridgeport of the AHL.
Salo was summoned to the big club when the locker room was hit with a Covid outbreak. Forced to step right into some big minutes, Salo showed a ton of poise and handled his assignment like a seasoned veteran.
Though not nearly perfect, the Islanders did not miss a beat by having a rookie defenseman log big minutes for 21 games. Salo was able to produce 5 points and two of those points being on the power play.
This season, the bottom defensive pairing has an opening next to Scott Mayfield. No players were brought into camp on a tryout and no other veterans were acquired to fill this vacancy.
The spot was up for grabs and Salo appears to have locked down the spot with a strong performance in camp and especially in the pre-season contests.
Anchoring the second Power Play unit was a strong indication of what the coaching staff thinks about Salo.
Salo is a player that can provide some speed and strong first passes out of the defensive zone. With time and confidence, Salo’s point production should rise.
This is a player that can earn and keep an NHL job this year, while also helping a weakness on the Power Play.