The line of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey was dazzling during the Islanders’ run to the Eastern Conference finals last summer.
And there may be more where that came from.
Coming off a postseason in which the trio accounted for 20 goals and 32 assists in 22 playoff games in the bubble, the unit is back together in training camp and hoping to pack a similar punch when the NHL regular season begins next Thursday.
“Just three good hockey players that have a real competitive edge right now,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday. “A lot of confidence and they’re having success with it. They’re playing the right way, they’re playing quick, they’re executing. They’ve trained the right way to be prepared. Obviously the long run that we had in the bubble and in the playoffs, I just think there’s three guys that have a lot of confidence and they like playing on the same line together.”
The Islanders’ top line currently is missing a key piece because restricted free-agent center Mathew Barzal remains unsigned, so the presence of a reliable and productive second line looms large.
Beauvillier believes there’s still more room to grow. The 23-year-old left wing, who tallied 18 goals and 21 assists during the regular season before chipping in nine goals and five assists in the playoffs, has tended to be a streaky scorer early in his career. But if he finds the consistency he is looking for, he could unlock an even more dangerous line.
“I think I’m ready to take the next step in my game,” Beauvillier said. “I want to be a better player, a more consistent player and want to be a big part of this group. It’s been like that for a couple years now and I just have to do it. It’s a little bit time for me.”
Bailey could also be in for a strong year after a season in which Trotz admitted he may have moved the longest-tenured Islander around too much. He had 14 goals and 29 assists during the regular season while playing wherever Trotz needed him before settling back onto the line with Nelson and Beauvillier during the playoffs and coming up with two goals and 18 assists.
“I probably did him a disservice last year by playing him in probably every position but goal last year,” Trotz said. “In some ways, it’s a disservice to maybe the kind of year he could have had. At the same time, it also says a lot about the trust and understanding that I have in him and what he’s capable of, being put in different roles. … What you saw in the bubble and what you’re going to see this year is the Josh Bailey that I think we all appreciate.”
Nelson, meanwhile, has steadily been delivering consistent play under Trotz. That resulted in a team-leading 26 goals and 28 assists last season and nine goals and nine assists during the postseason.
“[Trotz] said he trusts our line to go out there and get the job done, and not [just] offensively. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Nelson said. “Points are a big focus for a lot of people, but we feel we can help in other ways, too.”
Trotz did not address Barzal’s absence directly, but said it would be hard to make up missed time for those players who have yet to take the ice during camp.
“I don’t know if you can replicate what we’re doing if you’ve been out for a while,” Trotz said. “It’s going to be tough for anybody who’s trying to catch up.”