After falling one game short of last year’s President Cup Final, how will the team use the acquired playoff experience to its advantage this season?
The Islanders turned countless heads last year by reaching the seventh game of the President Cup semi-finals. Their most successful postseason run to date ended in a defeat to the 2017-18 regular season champion Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
“We have a number of veteran players that were with us last year and are hungry to get to the next level”, Islanders Head Coach and General Manager Jim Hulton remarked. “There’s a lot of motivation there. We want to use the experience in a positive fashion.”
With Finnish import Saku Vesterinen now gone and rookie Lukas Cormier set to fill in alongside NHL draftees Hunter Drew and P-O Joseph on the blue line, what can we expect from the Islanders defensive corps in 2018-19?
The Islanders will undergo a few key changes in defensive personnel entering the upcoming season. Hulton feels that the fans will like what they see from this group.
“We feel our back end is one of the strengths of our team”, Hulton explained. “Joseph is a star in this league and Drew was a project from last year that found himself drafted by the [Anaheim] Ducks at the end of the season. Lukas Cormier certainly has the potential to be a special player while Brandon Clavelle was something of an unsung hero for us last year. We’re seeing great early returns on [2018 Import Draft selection] Alexander Dersch, while [Ontario-born free agent] Colin Van Den Hurk has really impressed us early on in camp.”
Depth and strong goaltending were keys to last year’s success. What will be the main elements forming this year’s squad identity?
Backed by the goaltending of Matthew Welsh, a commitment to team defense and offense by committee, the Islanders put together an impressive 81-point regular season before marching to the QMJHL semi-finals.
“We feel [our identity] will be largely the same”, Hulton said. “Our goals against will be key. We won’t be a team that will put up huge offensive numbers. We will have to be diligent away from the puck and build around the nucleus of this team. We feel that we will be a quicker team overall than last year. Matt Welsh has another year under his belt and will provide strong goaltending. We feel he’s one of the best in the league.”