They are winners of five in their past seven; Kyle Okposo leads the team with 16 goals; the original third-string goalie is playing at the level of a number one starter; Bailey, Okposo, Nielsen, Comeau, and Bergenheim are all in the same point range; Gervais is starting to look like a real defense-man playing along Mark Streit; Mike Iggulden comes up and has a very impressive showing scoring five points in his first four games; and Jack Hillen steps right and shows that he may eventually become a valuable #3 or 4 dman.
Things have been looking pretty solid on the island lately. It all started after the NHL trade deadline. A few weeks back around the mid-point of the season head coach Scott Gordon told his younger players that this is now their team to take. This team has been here waiting for them; waiting to be earned. Since Gordon's offer, Weight has been injured with Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin being traded and Jon Sim receiving a demotion to the minors. Gordon wasn't lying. He's giving the kids their shot at taking this Isles team and making it theirs. So far they have responded with the best expectations as they have been scoring the goals and making the plays that are winning these hockey games on a nightly basis.
In addition, Yann Danis has been nothing short of outstanding. I seriously did not expect to see this much out of Yann when I heard we signed him over the summer, but he has been turning a lot of heads and I'm sure making it hard for Snow to find a reason as to why he shouldn't be Ricky's back-up next year. I know Ricky's status may be the ultimate factor in what type of a net-minder gets the #2 slot, whether it be Yann, Joey, or a seasoned veteran. Either way, he's a lot of fun to watch and is playing the best hockey of his young NHL career.
Even Jeff Tambellini has been looking better as of late. He may not turn into that player that he was in the AHL, but if he can start playing on a more consistent basis I'm sure the fans would get off his case. He's scored a few goals and has been putting himself in prime scoring positions on the ice which is something he wasn't doing for most of the year. I'm not saying he's turned his game around; he has got a lot of improve before the year is over, and being that next season is the last of his two-year deal, he may want to start scoring more goals if he hopes to remain on this team after his contract expires. Hopefully these little spurts are a sign that he's headed in the right direction.
But there is a bit of a down-side to this team's success...
All year fans have been hyped up around the topic of John Tavares and the first overall pick. Anyone that's watched the draft before knows that you're not guaranteed the first overall pick even if you lose all 82 games. There's a draft lottery, and that's how the Chicago Blackhawks ended up with Patrick Kane. Obviously the odds are better for the worst team in the league, but the Isles may not hold that title by June.
Currently the Isles still sit in 15th place in the East with a shallow 54 points, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are in 14th with only 58 points. Do the math and that's just two wins. The next team in line is the Atlanta Thrashers who have 60 points, a three win differential. If the Isles keep winning and either of those teams start losing, the Isles may find themselves with the third or fourth pick at the NHL entry draft.
Don't get me wrong, I am in no way rooting for a draft pick over improvement with this team. These signs of development are very encouraging, especially since the season started out with such dismal results. However, John Tavares may be the type of player that makes this team competitive on a nightly basis...and dare I say...a player that may help sell tickets and improve the chances of a new arena? You never know.
It's a tough spot for Garth Snow. Either way, the Isles are putting the final touches on a year that has been one hell of a roller coaster ride, and it's giving fans a reason to be excited for the start of the 2009-10 season.