As is true with most fans, the Islanders fan base is hoping that if the team has to depart with pending free agent forwards Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen that New York’s new ownership will open its wallet and make a big splash in free agency. However, the best options for replacing both of those players might already be in the Islanders’ organization.
The Islanders didn’t make any ground breaking moves at the trade deadline, but they were able to poach left wing Shane Prince from Ottawa. General manager Garth Snow also worked his magic during the draft last June, trading top defenseman prospect Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for the No. 16th pick, which became center Mathew Barzal. The 19-year-old just barely missed the cut out of training camp and went on to have a tremendous season in the WHL.
Although he may not be a viable replacement for next season, further down the road, fellow 19-year-old left wing Anthony Beauvillier is a potential candidate for the Islanders’ top six.
Beauvillier was New York’s “other” first-rounder a year ago, as Snow selected him 28th overall in the entry draft. The two years before he was drafted, he played with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL. During the 2014-15 season, he scored 42 goals and 94 points in 67 games. After being drafted, he returned to play for the Cataractes, and this season, he recorded his second straight 40-goal year.
The 19-year-old became the first member of Cataractes to register back-to-back 40-goal seasons since Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville did it in 2000-01 and 2001-02. Then in 21 playoff games, Beauvillier had 15 more goals and 30 points.
By those numbers, one can clearly see he is a dynamic scorer. Similar to Prince and Barzal, Beauvillier isn’t very big (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), but he isn’t afraid to get involved in the dirty areas or take on a player bigger than himself. That could serve him well, especially if coach Jack Capuano finds him talented enough to play with John Tavares one day. Arthur Staple of Newsday called him a “more skilled (Casey) Cizikas”.
However, he is still projected to be a few years away from being NHL ready, which makes life a little bit tougher for the Islanders. If New York makes a big splash in free agency like many of the fans would like, that could mean getting a player locked up in a bad long-term contract.
With talent like Beauvillier on the way, the Islanders shouldn’t commit too much money to older players.
At the same time, though, Tavares is in his prime and wasting any years away because the team is waiting on a few prospects isn’t ideal, especially when considering this franchise has to prove to Tavares that he should stay. If the Islanders aren’t true contenders when their captain’s contract expires in two years, he could conceivably leave for greener pastures.
Therefore, if the Islanders aren’t able to land the ultimate free agency prize — Steven Stamkos — maybe adding one big name such as David Backes and then a “bridge” winger for Tavares is the way to go.
Someone like right wing Lee Stempniak could be a good fit. He scored 19 goals and 51 points in 82 games with New Jersey and Boston this past season. Stempniak will most certainly get a raise, but he made under $1 million in 2015-16.
Wings Troy Brouwer, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, or Jason Chimera could be possibilities too. All three are veterans in their 30’s (Chimera is 37) and scored at least 18 goals and 39 points. Brouwer had the least amount of points between the three players, but he is the youngest and scored eight goals with 13 points in 20 postseason games.
As we previously discussed, David Perron could be another possibility. He has been inconsistent over the last two seasons while playing with three different teams, but he’s only 28, and there’s a real chance he signs a short-term deal because he could bet on himself by agreeing to a two-year deal, play well and then cash in for an even bigger contract before turning 30.
The free agent possibilities seem endless for the Islanders and that’s really due to the prospects they have in the system like Beauvillier. He may not be on the NHL roster next season, but his potential could change the way New York approaches free agency.