MID-TERM GRADES: Reviewing a Sub-Par First Half and Handing Out Second Half Assignments

The Islanders completed the 42nd game of their season on Saturday night by beating the Buffalo Sabres at home 4-2. They’ve played decent hockey for the last month — the literal definition of decent, they’re 6-6 in their last 12 — but find themselves with only a few days from the clock striking midnight on their season. They sit dead last in the Eastern Conference, tied with Carolina at 38 points a piece, and are sitting in prime draft lottery territory (don’t worry, we’ve got the draft coverage in the on-deck circle as well as thoughts on how to fix the team).

Most media experts didn’t pick the Islanders to finish in the playoff picture but nobody, save TSN, had them last in the conference either. With a couple of bright spots, it’s been a very disappointing season to say the least. Today, we’ll hand out mid-term grades for the forwards plus what they should be looking to achieve during the second half. Defense and goalies come tomorrow.

FORWARDS
John Tavares (15-27-42)
– There’s not a whole lot to say for the star of the team. He’s had an excellent first half and is, officially, a point per game player. He’s also added strength and skill that we’ve seen with our own eyes; not necessarily needing to be proven on the score sheet. Headed to the All-Star Game next week, the future captain is taking all the rights steps. It’s exciting to think about how he’ll look on the ice after another summer of training.
Grade: A
Second half: More of the same

Matt Moulson (21-18-39) – Moulson is leading the team in goals and clicking on all cylinders with his current linemates. His shooting percentage is a bit high at over 18%, indicating he may not pot another 20 on the back-end of the year. As long as he keeps going to the net, he’ll have another excellent year.
Grade: A-
Second half: Keep getting in the dirty areas, one of the few Islanders to do so.

Kyle Okposo (11-10-21) – Despite a recent hot streak since joining the two aforementioned players Okposo is still on pace to fall well short of his 09-10 numbers. It’s a welcome sight to see him score so much but the jury is still out on whether it’s a direct result of playing on the first line, a flash in the proverbial pan or if he’s really turned things around. His grade suffers considerably because it took a benching early on to get him going.
Grade: C+
Second half: Prove he’s not a product of Tavares if he gets knocked down in the lineup. Continue to come to play every night.

Michael Grabner (13-7-20) – The Islanders depend heavily on their first line for scoring and the biggest threat not on that line is Grabner. He’s play well but not great so far, unable to cash in on tons of breakaway opportunities. It’s endless water cooler talk as to whether it was the groin injury or something else that held him back but he’s looked good over the last week. It will be too little too late but another excellent second half would be good to see. He’s still only 24 and has upside — someone hire a specialist who can show him how to finish.
Grade: B-
Second half: 17 goals isn’t a ridiculous number to ask for. Let’s see him hit 30 again.

PA Parenteau (7-30-37) – PAP is on pace for about 70 points, a career high, and has proven himself to be a solid set-up man. He’s not the long-term answer for the first line but he can certainly hold down the fort. Hopefully in the future he won’t be depended upon to fill that first line wing role.
Grade: B+
Second half: Pay the man.

Frans Nielsen (7-13-20) – Frans is having a very Frans kind of season. In fact, it’s the same kind of season we’ve seen from him for a few years now — and that’s not a knock. He should end up with around 40 points and is playing good defensively, evidenced by having the team’s second best corsi while having the second highest quality of competition. The problem is, he’s not contributing offensively as much as a second line center should. He’s a defense first player and that’s great. But he’s not the long-term solution behind John Tavares. The general consensus is that he’d fit better on the third line and I tend to agree. It’ll be interesting to see how his contract situation plays out. The Islanders certainly want to retain him but he’s a unique player and his open market numbers will be interesting to see.
Grade: B-
Second half: It’s probably not coming but more offense would be the focal point.

Josh Bailey (3-8-11) – Another question at center is how Josh Bailey fits on this Islander team. We’ve seen him take a step and improve his skating and show some flashes this season and is clicking well on the third line with Matt Martin. That hasn’t translated to the scoreboard at all. Maybe it’s the flip flopping of linemates almost constantly until he was paired with Martin. Maybe his offensive ceiling isn’t very high and we do have to remember that he’s only 22 still. Sooner or later something’s got to give.
Grade: C
Second half: Hopefully something gives in the right direction. Basing this on hope; not a good sign.

Matt Martin (5-5-10) – What’s there to say about our Heart and Soul Player of 2011? He hits, he fights, he even finds the back of the next every so often. We can only hope that on this offensively starved team he keeps going to the net.
Grade: B+
Second half: The heart, the grit, the goals.

Brian Rolston (4-4-8) – Rolston’s barely contributed offensively despite tons of power play time throughout much of the first half. He was finally, mercifully, taken off the top unit over the last couple weeks. At 38, there wasn’t the expectation that he would be scoring 25 goals, but helping offensively in some capacity would be nice. A sub-5% shooting percentage is hard to look at.
Grade: D
Second half: It’s time to drop him down in the lineup and give some other players more ice time (Grabner? Ullstrom? Niederreiter? All of the above).

Marty Reasoner (0-5-5) – Reasoner isn’t an offensive forward but his contributions have been minimal. His corsi is also pretty bad at -8. In his defense, his linemates have been shifted a lot and are, at times, AHL caliber so it doesn’t all fall on him. It can be hard to have a decent corsi on a rough fourth line.
Grade: C-
Second half: Get healthy and turn it around.

Jay Pandolfo (1-0-1) – You can’t knock Pandolfo for his work ethic or for accepting the roster spot he was given — players don’t sign themselves. Still, the team would be better served giving his spot to a young player. His corsi is the worst on the team by a good amount.
Grade: F
Second half: Bridgeport

INCOMPLETE GRADES
David Ullstrom
— He’s shown some flashes in limited time but is now back in the AHL. The team is taking it slow with his recovery from a concussion. Hopefully the taste of the big time inspires him even more. It would be the best for him to see him back up here within a few weeks, being given another solid chance to earn a spot.
Second half: Back to the Island for another go.

Tim Wallace — Let’s not beat around the bush, Wallace isn’t a regular shift NHL player. He’s played decently in his time here and his willingness to hit players is a welcome sight. We’ll still reserve judgement due to sample size.
Second half: He’d have to pass through waivers to get to Bridgeport but he’d almost assuredly make it through. Just saying.

Nino Niederretier – It’s tough to talk about a player who missed significant time due to two injuries and has been limited in fourth line minutes.
Second half: It’s time to let him off the reigns a bit. There’s nothing to lose, so why not?