Noah Dobson had the puck on his stick at the top of the right circle when he spied Zach Parise open at the far post. A tangle of legs and sticks separated the two Islanders’ teammates but the defenseman navigated the puck through that with a pinpoint feed for a relatively easy goal.
“I’d love to say we practice it but that was just a world-class play by him,” Parise said of his second-period, game-winning goal in Tuesday’s 4-3 victory in Columbus. “I think he’s been doing a really good job of attacking and getting into the offensive zone and looking for sticks like that on the backside. I’ve been impressed. Offensively, he’s been doing great for us this year.”
The play was a prime example of the on-ice confidence that has blossomed in Dobson’s game and a play he might not have made in his first two seasons in the NHL, or even earlier this season.
Dobson, the 12th overall pick in 2018, has 10 goals and 28 assists in 65 games, setting career highs in all three categories. His 10 goals left Dobson tied for 10th in the NHL among defensemen entering Saturday’s play.
He had four goals and 17 assists in 80 career games entering this season.
“A lot more comfortable,” Dobson said. “Like anything, the more games you play, the more comfort you get, you kind of get confidence. I think that’s just been a big thing with me is the confidence. I was able to find it a little earlier and try to keep building. When you have that confidence, you’re able to see those plays and make those plays.”
There were certainly high expectations when the Islanders drafted Dobson as he completed his junior career with back-to-back Memorial Cups.
But, at age 18, the Islanders saw no benefit for Dobson’s development in sending him back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Yet, Dobson was not age eligible to be assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. So Dobson, in essence, served a two-season apprenticeship in the NHL, playing 34 of 68 regular-season games as a rookie and 46 of 56 games last season. He has missed just two games this season, being sat as a healthy scratch for the Islanders’ 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Nov. 15.
“At some point during the year, you could tell when he stacked up a number of games, he looked like he transitioned,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Most young guys that have talent like Noah does, they still have to try to catch up to the NHL a little bit, especially defensemen. What he’s done is he’s able to catch up to the NHL game. And when you do that, the game is slower. And your confidence, that poise, that extra second to wait for a play to develop like the Parise goal, he has that sense now.
“He has that inner clock that allows things to happen a little slower for him and then he’s able to process and do the things that he did in juniors.”
It’s no coincidence the Islanders are on a 10-3-1 run as Dobson’s play continues to improve.
Having at least one defenseman that can push the offense and quarterback the power play is crucial in the NHL. Most good teams have more than one.
“It’s pretty vital for every team,” Trotz said. “Not only power play, but just five-on-five play. Those guys are efficient. They can get out of their own end. They can support the attack and, at times, they can lead the attack. Those guys are extremely important.”
Anatomy of a goal
Burly Ross Johnston matched a career with his sixth point of the season when he notched the secondary assist on Matt Martin’s second-period goal in Friday night’s 3-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Johnston carried the puck into the offensive zone before leaving it for Mathew Barzal, who set up Martin.
Well, leaving it is one way of describing it. Johnston was asked when he became aware of Barzal’s presence near him on the ice.
“When he yelled for the puck and got in front of me,” said Johnston, promptly cracking up as he described the goal. “Yeah, he wanted the puck and we put it in the playmaker’s hands.”
Longtime Islanders’ broadcaster, author and hockey historian Stan Fischler celebrated his 90th birthday on Thursday and was honored that night at UBS Arena. Newsday asked Fischler to list his five favorite hockey players and why, which he did in chronological order:
1. F Syl Apps (Maple Leafs (1936-48): “Role model.”
2. F “Wild” Bill Ezinicki (Maple Leafs 1944-50; Bruins 1950-52; Rangers 1954-55): “Best body-checking forward I ever saw.”
3. F Bobby Nystrom (Islanders 1972-86): “For obvious reasons.”
4. G Billy Smith (Kings 1972; Islanders 1972-89): “For obvious reasons.”
5. G Evgeni Nabokov (Sharks 2000-10; Islanders 2011-14; Lightning 2014-15): “Nabby. Who else would do songs with me after games?”