Grading the Islanders’ defense, goalies: Noah Dobson, Ilya Sorokin emerge as core pieces

The emergence of two potential franchise cornerstones highlights our look at the Islanders’ back end, which this season provided some hope for the future, but also needs some alterations between now and the start of next season.

Here’s Part 2 of our final season grades, following our rundown of the forward group on Wednesday, here.


sebastian aho — C

There were times when Aho looked like he was making real strides in his game, particularly later in the season after he got an opportunity to string a number of games in a row. Posting 12 points in 36 games is a decent enough total for him, after he had six points in his first 26 NHL games spread out over the previous two seasons. Assuming some others don’t return, I could see the pending unrestricted free agent staying on a cheap one- or two-year contract extension if he doesn’t get any better offers (he didn’t play the required number of games to remain a restricted free agent, per CapFriendly), but there’s just as much of a chance that he finds a better deal or opportunity somewhere else.

Zdeno Chara — C-

I realized Chara was a lightning rod for criticism this season, and there were certainly times when he looked like a player at the end of his career. But Chara was never supposed to play an average of nearly 19 minutes per game this season, and his inability for him at times to keep up with the pace of play or lose puck battles that he won earlier in his career should n’t have been all that surprising. The fact he had to play so much was an indictment of the front office’s inability to find anyone more useful, while Barry Trotz arguably should have given Chara at night off every once in a while, too. Further, Chara still ended up with a plus-8 rating, and at five-on-five, he was on the ice for 49 goals for and 43 against.

“I was obviously managing my rest away from the rink,” Chara said after the Islanders‘final game. “Definitely there were days where it was challenging because of the travel, because of the condensed schedule. But I take a lot of pride in my fitness. That was always the number one thing that kept me playing for a long time. … At the stage where I’m at, and my age, it was challenging, but I tried to be the best I could every day.”

While the addition of Chara didn’t work for the Islanders in the short term, his mentoring of young Noah Dobson paid dividends for now, and the future.

Noah Dobson—A

What else can be said of Dobson that hasn’t been said already? The 22-year-old is meeting, or perhaps already exceeding expectations since the time he was made the No. 12 pick in the draft in 2018. Dobson should keep getting better, too. While the Islanders finding him a steady new partner will be paramount this offseason, Dobson’s all-around game already looks primed for today’s NHL.

The second half of the 2021-22 season will be remembered as the time Dobson transitioned from an Islanders prospect to a core player.

“I didn’t have a great start this year but I don’t think any doubt really came in,” Dobson said. “I knew it was a process. It’s a tough league to play in, especially as a young D-man, it takes time. Just learning to be patient with it, and I think that helped me a lot.”

Andy Greene — D

Greene, like Chara, fit like a glove into the Islanders’ dressing room. But on the ice, his play from him left little doubt that this is the end of the line for the grizzled veteran who eclipsed 1,000 games played this season. Greene finished the season with just a 43.8 expected goals rate, and a minus-13 rating, lowest among the defensemen. Far too often, his puck errors or lack of footspeed cost the Islanders on the scoreboard.

While I can’t envision a scenario in which Greene returns, I found the former devils captain’s comments about the Islanders’ culture to be insightful.

“It’s a great group of guys, and not just because we’re nice to each other. We genuinely love each other,” Greene said. “We all love to hang out together, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in the team or whatnot. It’s a very close group. The way we handle ourselves goes a long way.”

Scott Mayfield — B+

Importantly, Mayfield said in his media availability last weekend that he expects to be 100 percent as he enters the offseason.

Before he was shut down in March, Mayfield was having a decent campaign. His 50.0 expected-goals rate was second among Islanders defensemen, he was a key part of the Islanders’ strong penalty kill, and his offensive output of 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists) was in line with expectations. Barring a trade, he’ll almost certainly be the third pair defenseman on the right side when the Islanders begin next season and will likely remain on the top PK unit.

adam pelech – A

That Pelech was a plus-20 accurately reflects his All-Star season, as the Islanders’ next-best player in that category was Chara (plus-8). Pelech’s 51.4 expected-goals rate was the top mark on the team, and he played 2:18 per game (tied for the team high with Mayfield) on the Islanders’ fourth-ranked penalty kill. Signed at $5.75 million through 2028-29, Pelech is a bargain for the foreseeable future.

Asked to reflect on his own season, he said: “It’s nice to be considered an All-Star. It’s something I never thought would happen. By no means does that make the season a success for me. It’s more just a cool thing that happened, cool for my family. But that’s about it.”

Adam Pelech. (Brad Penner/USA Today)

Ryan Pulock—B

Pulock’s 2021-22 stats essentially mirror his stats from the 2020-21 shortened season. I have played 56 games in each, posting 21 points this season and 17 points in 2020-21. I have managed 121 shots on goal this season, compared with 122 last season. Of course, a significant injury in November derailed him a bit, and it took him longer than expected to recover.

As a key player on the team, his missing time was difficult mentally, particularly while the losses mounted.

“I feel like when I had the injuries in the past I was in a little different spot in my career and I didn’t feel like I was maybe as important to the team as I feel I am now,” Pulock said. “So being out for that stretch of time and not being able to help and then seeing guys going down with COVID, just not being able to really be there and help get out of it takes a toll on you a little bit.”

Although he seemed to struggle a bit upon his return, he resembled his old self over the last few weeks, so there’s shouldn’t be too much concern about him moving forward.

Robin Salo — B

I would have liked to see Salo a little more this season, but I understand the philosophy of making him prove himself in the AHL before he gets a chance to crack the lineup full time. Earlier in the season, when the Islanders recalled Parker Wotherspoon rather than Salo on March 5, Trotz indicated that it was partially because Salo needed to play better with Bridgeport. And, he did, eventually earning another recall in time for the final three games.

“I think the experience in Bridgeport…every time he comes up I think he’s been showing good poise, and continuing to get better,” Trotz said on April 28.

We’ll know more about what the Islanders truly think of Salo later this summer based on whatever moves they make. Does he require more seasoning, or might he be able to slot in as, say, the third-pair defenseman on opening night on the left side of Mayfield? Salo will be 24 in October, so it may be now or never.


Ilya Sorokin – A

Where would the Islanders have finished this season without their emerging star goaltender? Sorokin was among the league leaders in save percentage (.925, second) and goals-against average (2.40, fourth), and his 29.8 goals saved above average (according to Hockey Reference) was second in the league behind only Igor Shesterkin. There will be no doubts who the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie is headed into next season, while his $4 million salary for the next two seasons could end up being one of the league’s best bargains if he continues down the path he seems to be on.

“Playing more games, playing in all 82 games, last season was short… when you play a lot you feel a lot more comfortable,” Sorokin said.

Semyon Varlamov — C

Varlamov really went through the wringer, missing training camp and the start of the regular season due to injury and then getting stuck in Canada after the All-Star break due to COVID-19 protocols. Still, his play from him was admirable, even if his numbers from him (.912 save percentage, 2.88 goals-against average) were a little off from what he’s used to. The bottom line with Varlamov is that he’s still probably an average to above-average goalie, and if he returns to the Islanders, he’ll be viewed as one of the better No. 2 netminders in the NHL.

“I missed training camp and the beginning of the season. That was tough,” Varlamov said. “But when I came back I was feeling 100 percent. I was ready to go and I was ready to play. Just didn’t play well.”

(Top photo: Christopher Pasatieri/NHLI via Getty Images)


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button