What a difference a week makes, especially when the New York Islanders win three in a row. The Islanders had to beat the Calgary Flames if they wanted to even dream about making the playoffs. It was a dream come true for them when they beat both the Penguins and Capitals Wednesday and yesterday, respectably. Hoping that the Islanders do not lose another three straight, you can make a string case that they will be in the playoff hunt well into January. Big sigh of relief. So let’s talk about a few players who all have some thing in common: Late bloomers. Two of them are having career years and give the Islanders a little more time to be patient before making any kind of moves(apparently), while one is having an identity crisis and the other is biding his time.
First, I wrote about him around game 13 and that I saw something different, in a good way, about Josh Baileyhaving a possible breakout year. He’s currently on pace for a 50 point season and there’s just no way Islanders captain John Tavares will allow the coaching staff to take Bailey off that first line. In fact, I’ll even go as far to write that John Tavares is the reason Bailey is always on that line. I like what I have seen from Anthony Beauvillier, but forget about finding a winger for Tavares, maybe it’s time to look for a linemate for Tavares and Bailey. If the other side can be found, you might see Bailey approach the 60 point mark and he becomes that late bloomer like PA Parenteau was when he first came to the Isles. The obvious questions are who and when would the Islanders make a trade and for whom?
Second, people always compare the offseason moves of Okposo/Nielsen/Martin to Ladd/Chimera/Parenteau. Truthfully, there’s another player not looked at as much because he was a mid-late season pick up and despite having a good playoff run last year, I feel Shane Prince does not get enough credit for helping the Islanders move forward this year as an organization. Like Bailey, Prince is having a breakout season after spending a good amount of time in the AHL. He only scored six goals for both the Ottawa Senators and the Islanders in his first, let limited year and currently has four after only playing 16 games so far which puts him on pace for 19 goals and 38 points. I’ve talked to a few Ottawa fans and they cry a little every time they hear he scores. With the Sens doing well so far, they’re not balling out a flood, but many are happy for him as he paid his dues in the minors with Binghamton and for some it’s still a head scratcher as to why he was moved. Prince’s breakout season may also be a reason the Islanders are being patient with Andrew Ladd and his slow, yet “normal” start.
Third, many have written/talked about Ryan Strome and his continued benching or him being a regular tenant in Islanders head coach Jack Capuano’s “dog house.” We can do advanced stats all day and people will be right with whatever explanations they come up with, and we can blame the front office or the coaches for his development, but the players are only concerned with the most important stat: winning. Since his second full season last year with the Islanders, Strome has missed a grand total of thirteen regular season games via a healthy scratch or being sent down to Bridgeport, which includes the two games this year. Without him in the lineup, the Islanders have gone 8-4-1. To make matters worse for Strome, Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier, who is also a natural center like Strome but is being asked to play wing on John Tavares’ line, is on pace to produce 30 points and plays two-and-a-half minutes less than what Strome was playing last year when he recorded 28 points and played with Tavares. So is Strome a late-bloomer like Bailey appears to be? He’s on a similar track. One good first year, then a couple of head scratching seasons for someone who was chosen higher than Bailey. Is it his lack of fore-checking and not generating offense from his defensive play? Is he just Jeff Tambellini at the center position? Is it the coach? His lack of development? One thing is clear, he’s a non-factor on this club and he needs to become a big positive factor if he wants to keep playing on the Islanders or someone like Beauvillier or Barzal may just take his spot.
Fourth, Scott Mayfield was sent down today.
#Isles have returned Scott Mayfield to BPT.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 2, 2016
Speaking of late bloomers, Scott Mayfield probably had his best stint since participating in the playoffs two years ago. His role this year is a call-up and is on a as-needed basis. The fact that he showed he wants to stay will not go unrecognized, but with the defense getting healthier and the Islanders not playing until Sunday, getting Mayfield as many games as possible will only benefit him and the Islanders if/when they ever need to call him up again. Many don’t expect him to be a regular in the NHL, but you never know with late bloomers.
Is there another late bloomer I missed that could also help the Islanders? Andrew Laddappears to be a regular late bloomer every year, so I’m intrigued to see what he may do as the schedule gets smaller. Could he move back up to the top line? Maybe. If not, my hope is that Prince continues his breakout season to lessen the pressure off Ladd. I do feel the Islanders may make a trade at some point for a linemate to compliment Tavares and Bailey and who knows, maybe Strome just needs a change of scenery and we’ll see Beauvillier take his spot at his natural center position and it might take Strome to bring in that linemate. It’s all just speculation on my part, but with three goalies, Strome, and the expansion draft coming at the end of the season, I have to believe the Islanders will be making a trade or two before the deadline. But that’s for another time.