It’s been a rough start for the New York Islanders in 2016-17. The team has skidded to a 3-5 start, Andrew Ladd has offered up very little help for John Tavares on the top line, the power play is spinning its wheels and the team is 0-3 on the road.
But the Isles’ rough ride has at least been partially minimized by the surprisingly stellar play of 19-year-old rookie Anthony Beauvillier. The speedy forward has opened eyes from the minute he took the ice in camp, and he made the opening night roster, joining Mathew Barzal as one of two rookies to make the jump from juniors.
While Barzal has struggled to get his skates beneath him, Beauvillier has flourished in his limited ice time (just over 10 minutes per game). He’s not imposing at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, but the former QMJHL standout plays big for his size.
Throw in his plus speed, nose for the puck and versatility, and it’s becoming apparent that the Isles are a much better team with him in the lineup. With seven games under his belt in the NHL already, expect the team to announce that he’s in Brooklyn to stay for the season after he hits the nine-game mark next week.
Beauvillier leads all Islander forwards with a plus-4 rating, and he’s fifth among all NHL rookies with 4.02 points per 60 minutes. Take it for what it’s worth, but that’s more on a points-per-minute basis than Winnipeg sniper Patrick Laine has tallied.
Beauvillier is being used on the Isles third line, and it’s a role that suits him well — for now. But down the road, if he develops his scoring touch, Beauvillier could be a top-six forward for New York.
He’s got fast feet, plays with fire in the belly and has quickly become one of the Isles most energetic forwards. He creates havoc on the forecheck and, despite his diminutive stature, is winning more than his fair share of battles along the wall.
Islanders’ bench boss Jack Capuano has quickly taken a liking to Beauvillier. On Wednesday, New York’s head coach took him off the leash and let him run with John Tavares’ line during the third period of Wednesday’s defeat to the Canadiens. The Isles lost the game on a late Shea Weber power play goal, but Beauvillier finished second on the team in shots and third in hits in a career-high 16:18 of ice time.
“He just plays with tenacity, grit, determination in his game and that’s the way he has to play,” Capuano told Newsday on Monday. “He shifted to wing and he’s accepted the position. Wall battles are the biggest thing for a winger in this game and I think he’s done real well.”
The possession numbers back Capuano’s assessment. Beauvillier leads the Islanders in even-strength Corsi with a 52.03 CF%, and he also leads in RelCF% and RelCF60 categories. These numbers are especially important given how bad the rest of the Islanders have been as a possession team. They have the second-worst Corsi percentage in the NHL as of October 28.
Beauvillier has improved in each of his professional seasons, and he was dazzling last year at Shawnigan in the QMJHL, scoring 79 points in 47 regular season games and adding another 30 points in 21 playoff games.
Beauvillier doesn’t project to be an impact player on par with rookie phenoms Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but he’s making it clear that he’s ready to play a significant role with the Islanders this season. With his up-tempo, high-energy brand of hockey and surprisingly good offensive awareness and possession metrics, Beauvillier has made it virtually impossible for the club to send him back to juniors.
He’s here to stay — and he’s one to watch.