Every once-in-a-while we get some exclusive, first-hand information. Recently we were about to corner New York Islanders blog boxer Christian Arnold in order to extract some excellent fantasy hockey knowledge out of him. If you are unfamiliar with his work, Christian runs the awesome Isles-based website Islanders Hockey Blog in addition to covering the Isles and New York hockey for The Fourth Period and RLD Hockey. Below is the transcript of our conversation, a must read for any Islanders owners.
John Tavares has been absolutely dominating for stretches this season and most recently finished a ridiculous 12-game point streak. While we are sure he will break 30 goals for the first time in his career, his ceiling is a relatively unknown. Where do you project the franchise player? Will he ever be a top 10, or top 5 player in the league?
In all honesty, I think Tavares is already a top 25 guy in this league. Not too many players, currently active, are having as much impact night in and night out as Tavares is having. From scoring goals to creating plays for his teammates, Tavares is constantly a factor in any Islanders win. He’s only 21, so he is only going to get more explosive as his career progress. I think he can easily be on of the top 10 guys in the NHL in a few years. As far as his ceiling is concerned the sky’s the limit with this kid.
Matt Moulson and Tavares have been tied at the hip since both came to the team but their third winger has been somewhat rotated. Whether it is Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, PA Parenteau or Nino Niederreiter, who do you think will eventually complete the top line on a more permanent basis?
Kyle Okposo is the one whose locked up that spot on Tavares’s wing. Moulson, Tavares and Okposo seem like the natural fit because they’re used to each others game. People forget sometimes that in Tavares’s first season on Long Island his line mates were Moulson and Okposo and saw a lot of success with one another. Okposo struggled early on this season, but has really found his game since joining the top line, even crediting Tavares with some of his recent success. While PA was just as good on that line, Okposo just makes more sense and PA has shown he can be effective on another line as well; gave the Islanders secondary scoring they desperately need. Niederreiter is far from ready for top line minutes, though he needs to be moved off of the fourth line, and Grabner, i don’t know, just think he’s better served on second line.
Evgeni Nabokov just came off a four-game winning streak and has clearly helped solidify their situation between the pipes. His recent play keeps Al Montoya from getting back in the mix for now but has he earned the starting goalie position?
Islanders goaltending has always been interesting topic. This season Montoya has been consistently outstanding in net for the Islanders, but he hasn’t played since December 20 against Winnipeg. Evander Kane ran him over. He’s been out with injury since then, but the team has never put him on injured reserve. They had Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin up, at different times, to back up for Nabokov and just recently started having Montoya back up Nabokov. To answer your initial question, I think Nabokov has earned the starting spot for his play. He has kept the Islanders in games numerous times this season and during this recent stretch of games for the Islanders. However, part of me feels that he’s being showcased for a possible move down the line, but if the Islanders somehow manage to get within striking distance of a playoff spot I don’t expect him to go anywhere. I would love to see both Montoya and Nabokov stay on longer than just till the end of this season. Both have played extremely well and have really beefed up goaltending for the Islanders.
The Islanders recently crawled out of the Eastern Conference basement with their 6-50 record in January and now sit nine points out of a playoff seed. Do you think they have the parts to make a run? If so, would they be buyers at the trade deadline?
This is a tough question because as a fan of the team I would love to believe they have all the pieces to get into the playoffs, but staying objective I have to say they don’t. Defensively they have not been been all there. I think guys like Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald have played well, but captain Mark Streit has struggled this season both offensively and defensively. Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina have been inconsistent and Steve Staios and Mike Mottau have had more bad days than good. I think Garth Snow, the Islanders general manager, will try to make moves at the deadline if he can find a deal that makes sense for the team. Not too sure if they have too many guys they could deal. Possible PA Parenteau, who has really been good during his two years with the Islanders, and possible Frans Nielsen if he doesn’t have a new deal. But this is just speculation on my part.
We know about Ryan Strome and the aforementioned Niederreiter as two players to watch for in the future. Who would be your wild-card prospect to make an impact in the Isles system?
To me there’s Calvin de Haan, who the Islanders traded up to select him at 12th overall at the 2009 draft. De Haan played in one game this season in the NHL and has played well down in AHL Bridgeport.
Though, I feel that David Ullstrom could also have a huge impact down the road. Ullstrom started the year in the AHL, but was called up and has looked outstanding with the Islanders. In 14 games he has two goals and two assists for four points. He’s a skilled guy who can create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates and has some nice speed and puck handling skills to boot.