Adam Pelech has been one of the most impressive New York Islanders all season. He has established himself as a shutdown defender with Ryan Pulock before suffering an Achilles tendon injury in pregame warmups off the ice. He is expected to have surgery and miss four months.
“Obviously you’re not going to replace Adam, who does a lot of things for us, said head coach Barry Trotz. “So it’s just next man up mentality. With the opportunity right now, we’re going to rely on Noah.”
It’s also not the first time in his young career that he suffered a season-ending injury, as he was hurt in 2016 after taking a skate to the face against the New York Rangers. Pelech also had thoracic outlet syndrome later that year. While the Islanders have dealt with many injuries this season, this is the first time they lost a player for the remainder of the year. In a corresponding move, New York has called up Sebastian Aho from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Coming into this season, Pelech was turning into a very reliable player. With both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy getting less ice-time, Pelech established himself as the Islanders best shutdown defender playing against the opposition’s top forwards. He generally finds himself on the penalty kill and has become one of the best in the league at blocking shots. Pelech also continued to bring offense as well. He had five goals and 21 points last year and was on pace to passing those numbers this season before his injury.
Opportunity for Dobson
The only reason the Islanders’ could not afford to send Noah Dobson to the World Junior Championship was in case of an injury to one of their top defensemen. While they could have survived without him for a bit longer, he immediately will assume a role as a regular blueliner with New York. Dobson has played occasionally this season, but has performed well in his chances. One thing Trotz will have to do is allow him to get more ice-time if he wants to continue to play his defenders roughly 20 minutes a night. Dobson though has only played more than 18 minutes once this season.
In their first game without Pelech, the Islanders paired Dobson on the left side with Boychuk. Since the Islanders have four right-handed defensemen, someone will be forced to play on the left side out of position.
While the Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes gets most of the attention, the Islanders have their own Sebastian Aho, who debuted back in 2017-18. Due to the depth the Islanders have had, Aho has only played with the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this season, where he has received heavy minutes and has played on the power play. While Pelech brings much more defense to the table, Aho should still be able to make an impact after being named to the 2020 AHL All-Star Game.
Despite the Sound Tigers’ horrific start, Aho has scored two goals and has 20 points from the blue line. He scored his first NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils and has the potential to make an impact with New York once again.
The injury to Pelech will also potentially make the Islanders search the market for a defender come the trade deadline. Coming into the season, they had so much depth, but with Pelech out and Thomas Hickey only playing in 11 games for Bridgeport, they may be forced to acquire a veteran.
A couple of names to keep an eye out for are Mike Green and Trevor Daley of the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit is clearly in rebuild mode and would most certainly be glad to move some salary for draft picks. Green brings much more offense and will likely cost more, though he is making over $5 million this season in the final year of his contract. Daley could also be a replacement for Pelech if the Islanders need to make a move. He has had some really strong seasons with the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins. Either way, both are experienced players who have played in the playoffs before.
The Islanders schedule will quickly start to pick up with a back-to-back to begin the week with the Colorado Avalanche and Devils before a tough challenge with the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.