Grading the Isles at Mid-Season

The Islanders reached the midpoint of their season after Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Nassau Coliseum.  After 41 games, the Isles sit at 13-21-7 which places them tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 28th place in the NHL.

The first 41 games can be broken down into three separate sections: the Isles early success (4-1-2), their debilitating losing streak which led to the firing of Coach Scott Gordon (1-17-3) and their recent string of solid performances that helped return the team to respectability (8-3-2).

Here is a look at the performance of the Islanders players during the first half this year.  Grades are a combination of expectations and performance.

FORWARDS:

John Tavares: Tavares leads the Isles with 15 goals and 29 points.  He also had four game winning goals which leads the club.  JT has shown flashes of being a top player but he still rarely dominates games.  When he struggles, the Isles have trouble scoring goals.  He has shown maturity and a desire to improve which makes his future look bright.  He has shown great hands down low in recent weeks.  His recent hot streak coincides with the Isles strong play as a team.  It’s not a coincidence.  Grade: B

P.A. Parenteau: Parenteau’s mission this season is to prove he belongs in the NHL.  He has shown some offensive ability and 13 of his 24 points have come on the power play where he has a little more space and time to maneuver.  He has some deficiencies away from the puck which can be frustrating to watch.  His play has been a bit better during the team’s recent upswing.  Grade: C+

Matt Moulson: Moulson is second on the team with 14 goals.  He has struggled a bit lately, scoring only three times in his last 12 contests and two of those came in one game. Moulson is at his best when he finds small openings near the net and gets dirty goals.  Even with the recent slump, Moulson is on pace for 28 goals, proving that last year’s 30 goal season was no fluke.  He is an UFA at the end of the season and it will be interesting to see if GM Garth Snow makes a move to bring him back and if Moulson offers the Isles any kind of home town discount.  Grade: B-

Blake Comeau: Inconsistency, thy name is Comeau.  When his game is on, Comeau is constantly moving his feet, playing a gritty game, going to the net and using his heavy shot when he can. Eight of Comeau’s 11 goals have come in games in which the Isles picked up at least a point.  He went 20 games without a goal which largely coincided with the team’s lengthy drought.  Comeau is second on the team in scoring with 26 points.  If he became consistently good, it would make a big difference for this team.  Grade: B-

Frans Nielsen: “The Great Dane” may not make headlines, but he is one of the most valuable players on the club.  Nielsen is a top penalty killer, gets time on the power play, is a good passer and has excellent speed.  He is very responsible in his own end and of course has been very successful in shootouts and on penalty shots with his patented backhand move.  He has missed the past few games with a groin injury and the Isles definitely miss him.  He is only a minus-three on a team that is full of minus players and three of his goals have been shorthanded.  Every team needs a Frans Nielsen.  The Isles are fortunate to have one.  Grade: A-

Rob Schremp: Schremp has a lot of talent and among the best hands in the league. He is capable of scoring spectacular goals.  The biggest questions in Schremp’s game are consistency and his play in his own zone although that has shown signs of improvement in recent games, most notably the win over the Penguins. He has played well on the point on the power play in recent games after injuries to Weight and Nielsen. Grade: B-

Josh Bailey: Bailey started the season off on fire until he was injured.  After his return, he was practically invisible for 13 games before being sent down to Bridgeport to regain his confidence.  He played better after being called back up but still has a ways to go before meeting expectations.  Bailey is going to the net more and it is paying off but his playmaking skills seem to have regressed a little bit.  It’s been a disappointing season for the former first round pick so far, but it’s not too late for him to make this year a positive step in his long term development.  Grade: C+

Michael Grabner: Grabner’s biggest asset is his pure speed.  He is tied for fourth on the team with nine goals but he sometimes has trouble finishing the chances his speed gives him.  It’s tough to remember sometimes that Grabner is still technically a rookie having played only 20 games in the NHL prior to this season.  He has potential and has shown flashes of it at times. Grade: B-

Zenon Konopka: If you just look at his stats, Konopka may not look too valuable.  He has only one goal and five points and plays less than 11 minutes per game.  But Konopka does all the small things you could ask of a fourth line player.  He sticks up for his teammates (143 penalty minutes, first in the league), is a steady penalty killer and ranks near the top in the league in faceoffs with 58.8 winning percentage. Grade: B

Doug Weight: The captain of the Isles has appeared in only 18 games this season and has not played since November 17.  When he’s in the lineup, he is averaging a half point a game and plays point on the power play.  Weight is a good leader in the locker room for a young team but his contributions are limited on the ice since he can’t stay healthy.  Grade: B-

Matt Martin: Although he has played only 31 games and plays an average of only 10:37 per game, Martin leads the Isles with 140 hits.  When he’s playing his game, Martin inspires his club by throwing his body around and sticking up for teammates.  Martin’s offensive output is limited but his other contributions are helpful to the team.  Grade: B-

Jon Sim: Sim is going to set some kind of record for being waived the most times in a season.  He is the ultimate spare part for this team.  While he has limited skills at the NHL level, he is all hustle and gives the team all he has.  The Isles send him down to Bridgeport every time other players get healthy but he always finds his way back.  Sim is a reliable fill in.  Grade: C+

Jesse Joensuu: Joensuu has good size and some ability but he appears invisible at times.  In 20 games, he has scored three goals and added one assist.  He has yet to establish himself as a steady NHL player and may be running out of chances.  Coach Capuano has indicated that Joensuu needs to work on his game away from the puck whenever he’s asked about the big Finn.  That seems to be a label that has stuck with him throughout his career. Grade: C

Trent Hunter: Injuries have derailed what was once a promising career for Hunter.  In 17 games, he has only one goal and four points.  Because of his frequent injuries, Hunter seems a bit more tentative in the corners and in front of the net.  He doesn’t have the raw skill to be a successful perimeter player.  If he returns to good health, we may see more of the old Hunter.  This year, he has struggled.  Grade: C

Trevor Gillies: Gillies is a one-dimensional player right now.  He helps the team with his fists but plays an average of only 2:39 of ice time per game and has only three shots on goal total in 25 games.  If the Isles are playing a less physical team, Gillies is often a healthy scratch.  He is popular with this teammates and embraces his role.  Grade: B-

DEFENSEMEN:

Andrew MacDonald: A-Mac has picked up his game this season and has established himself as part of the Isles’ top defensive pair.  It is no coincidence that the team’s long losing streak began almost immediately after MacDonald was injured and ended shortly after he returned to action. He has 12 assists in 26 games but plays his best hockey in his own end. Shot blocking is a strength.  MacDonald still hasn’t reached his full potential.  He could be an integral part of the blue line on Long Island for years to come.  Grade: B+

Travis Hamonic: Hamonic’s strong play is part of what made James Wisniewski expendable.  He hits hard and plays well in his own zone.  Hamonic is only 20-years-old and is already averaging more than 21 minutes per game and is playing on the Isles top defensive pair. His game will only improve as he gains experience.  Grade B

James Wisniewski: Wiz was traded to Montreal a few weeks ago.  He was a bit overwhelmed as the team’s number one defenseman, a position he is not really suited for.  During the early part of the season, he put up good offensive numbers, but Wisniewski was trying to do too much to compensate for the loss of Mark Streit and it hurt him on the ice, especially in his own zone. Grade: C+

Milan Jurcina: Jurcina isn’t flashy, but on a young team, he has value because he is experienced and steady and knows what it takes to win. He leads the team in plus-minus with an even rating, adds occasional offense and makes smart plays in his own end.  The Isles re-signed him to a one-year extension, showing they appreciate his contributions.  Grade: B

Jack Hillen: Hillen showed great potential at the end of last season but seems to have regressed a bit this year. He has been beaten too often in his own zone and made too many costly turnovers.  He has missed some games due to injury and has been a healthy scratch several times due to his inconsistent performance.  His play has picked up a bit since the recent birth of his first child.  He recently scored his first goal of the season and has cut down on his mistakes.  Grade: C

Radek Martinek: Injuries have again made Martinek miss games and have hindered his development.  He just returned to action on Tuesday after missing more than two weeks.  Martinek has been steady if unspectacular and averages more than 21 minutes per game.  He knows how to make a smart first pass out of his zone and he steadies some of the younger players.  Grade: B-

Mike Mottau: The ex-Devils defenseman was signed after Mark Streit went down with a pre-season injury. Mottau was all the team hoped for, steady and reliable in his own zone and able to fill in on occasion when called on to contribute on special teams.  He is lost for the rest of the season after injury.  Grade: B-

Bruno Gervais: Bruno would probably be a spare part if all Isles defensemen were healthy.  He fills in when called on and has added three assists in 23 games and has a minus-eight rating.  He sees only 14:31 per game on average.  When he’s on, he blocks shots and makes smart passes but the consistency just isn’t there yet.  Grade: C

Mark Eaton: Eaton is out for the remainder of the season after injuring his hip.  He adds good size to the lineup and plays smart hockey in his own zone.  He still leads the team with 82 blocked shots despite missing seven games.  He will be missed during the second half of the season.  Grade: B

Dylan Reese: The Islanders would prefer to have Reese down in Bridgeport, but injuries to the defensive corps have brought him up to Long Island for 13 games.  He’s added one assist and has a minus-six rating.  At times, Reese has seemed a bit overwhelmed at the NHL level this season although his play has improved slightly the more he has played.  Reese is a useful fill-in, but nothing more at this point in his career.  Grade: C

GOALIES:

Rick DiPietro: Health issues have again hurt DiPietro who has spent time on the injured list this season after barely playing over the last two campaigns.  DP got off to a slow start but the more he played, the better his goaltending became.  He has shown refreshing maturity after battling injuries and has worked hard to return.  If his body would hold up, the Isles and their fans would feel much better.  Grade: C+

Dwayne Roloson: Rollie was a valuable contributor to the Isles while he was here.  He was steady, a leader in the locker room and played well despite the team’s lack of support in front of him.  The Isles got Ty Wishart, a former first round pick with size and offensive ability in exchange for Roloson who would have been a UFA at the end of the season.  Grade: B+

Nathan Lawson: The 27-year-old AHL veteran played well his first game but has not shown the consistency needed to convince most scouts he is ready to even be a steady NHL backup.  Depending on the health of DiPietro and the performance of Kevin Poulin, Lawson may be headed back to Bridgeport shortly.  Grade: Incomplete.

Kevin Poulin: In limited action, Poulin has shown why he is so highly regarded by the Islanders’ organization.  He made 48 saves against the Canucks on Tuesday to keep the club in a game against the team with the league’s best record.  It’s too early to tell if he’s ready for the NHL just yet, but he definitely has the potential and a promising future.  Grade: Incomplete.

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