NEW YORK — There was a moment, late in the first period of Saturday’s home opener at Barclays Center, when Brock Nelson charged in on a two-on-one with Anthony Beauvillier to his right. Nelson’s smart shot ricocheted off Robin Lehner’s left pad and met the young winger’s stick with a clear path to twine. It was the perfect setup.
Lehner stuck out his glove in desperation fashion to rob the young Montreal native. As a rookie, Beauvillier may have showed frustration by staring in awe at the rafters. In his second year, a more mature 20-year-old took it in stride and kept his head up searching for another opportunity.
“Every time you step on the ice, you now know what you have to do,” Beauvillier said when asked about the early difference one year makes in his early career. “It’s so much better. It feels good. The most important thing, everyone played well.”
The difference between the rookie version of Beauvillier and three games into year two is night and day. Despite it being a small sample size, Beauvillier already sees a difference in himself on and off the ice.
You can be sure comfort goes a long way for hockey players.
“Now, I know everyone here. I know all the staff, all the players,” Beauvillier said. “I just feel more confident [and] more comfortable around all the guys. You just feel better.”
Sure enough, his confidence and comfort cashed in. Early in the third period with Buffalo holding momentum, Casey Cizikas executed an effective forecheck deep in the offensive zone. Keeping his eyes on the puck, Beauvillier drove to the net as his linemate skated around the boards with possession. After Cizikas connected with Nick Leddy on a strong pass, the defenseman took a shot that was hammered home on a rebound by Beauvillier.
Last year, it took three games for Beauvillier to find the back of the net for his first career NHL goal. It took a little over five periods in 2017. But, rather than falling into a nine-game goalless lull following his first tally, Beauvillier insists he’s a changed man this time around.
“It just feels good to get it out of the way,” he said. “I just want it to keep going. It meant everything, especially in front of our fans. We wanted to bounce back [after opening night].”
Beauvillier represents a key cog in the Islanders’ vision for success this season and the future. Though, still young, he gained valuable experience down the stretch as the team clawed for a playoff spot one year ago.
While New York is the twelfth oldest team in the league at an average 27.2 years old, Beauvillier, Josh Ho-Sang and Matthew Barzal represent a young core on the rise. This doesn’t include players like Nelson, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and John Tavares who represent the current homegrown core; nobody is older than 28-years-old.
“It’s great,” Barzal said when asked about the youth on the roster. “I am friends with [Beauvillier and Ho-Sang]. It’s just nice having younger guys around and then obviously some really good veteran leaders. It’s just a good mix of everything.”
For years, Islanders fans were accustomed to hearing the last names of Nelson, Lee, Bailey and Tavares while watching the game. Let’s be clear; those names won’t be leaving anytime soon. However, as a new era is ushered in, be prepared to hear Beauvillier, Ho-Sang and Barzal’s names being called more. They represent the present and future of this group. Don’t be surprised if all three make an impact in 2017, leading to an entertaining ride for the remainder of the season.