Speedy Winger Has Helped Solidify A Top Line With Unlimited Potential

By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — There’s just something about this kid.

Well, many things, actually.

When the Islanders signed P.A. Parenteau during the summer following the 2009-10 season my immediate reaction was it seemed like it was just a case of this team reaching, hoping and praying. Parenteau had played in a little more than two-dozen games over the previous four seasons. With the Rangers during that final season before he was allowed to walk he had just 8 points in 22 games.

Here he was, 27 years old — ancient for an NHL player who had yet to establish himself — and not exactly blessed with the prototypical physical attributes you bank on for a winger. Unless I’m missing something, he’s still not 6-feet tall nor 200 pounds.

But that hasn’t seemed to matter all that much.

The Islanders, as has been their custom over the last four years, were looking for relatively young pieces to plug into the rebuilding process. Parenteau seemed to fit the mold in that he had much better than average speed, good hands, and, of course, would come cheap.

Maybe all he needed was a chance to play a regular shift, something that likely wasn’t going to happen with the Rangers, because he started quickly by his at that point yet-to-be-unveiled standards with the Islanders last season, registering 8 points in his first 11 games.

And that type of consistency basically continued over 81 games as Parenteau concluded his first full season in the NHL with 53 points, tied for second on the team in scoring. The Islanders as a franchise have struggled to score goals for years. Parenteau’s 2010-11 numbers would have put him among the team scoring leaders in every season dating to 1995-96.

Now, is that an indictment on the Islanders and their abilities to find or grow legitimate point producers? In a way. But I’d like to think of it more as the Islanders taking a chance with a kid nobody really wanted and it paying off.

And it’s continuing to pay off.

Parenteau has 25 points in 31 games this season and it doesn’t take someone with a math degree to figure out he’s well on his way to obliterating his breakout season from a year ago. He’s currently tied with Matt Moulson, one point behind team leader John Tavares.

Remember those three names going forward because collectively they are becoming, while I won’t say a feared line, certainly one opposing teams have to prepare for on a nightly basis. And they will remain the key ingredient as the Islanders push toward .500 and, eventually, a playoff berth, which could happen considering there really are only a handful of powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference.

Parenteau, Moulson and Tavares combined for 80 goals and 173 points last season and appear to be thinking even bigger this season. While their collective goal-scoring has yet to really take off, all three are better than average passers, and as the Islanders other younger players continue to take baby steps toward coming into their own they, too, are becoming the beneficiaries. Heading into Wednesday’s action there were 58 players in the NHL with at least 25 points. The Isles have three of them.

What makes Parenteau’s story more interesting is he’s become a play-making winger in a league that pretty much demands its outside forwards be big, menacing forces that command respect in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net. Parenteau seems to excel as a player who flies in the face of that conventional wisdom. His offensive awareness, while not off the charts, is certainly something not to be taken lightly. He just seems to know where to be the vast majority of the time and, as evidenced by his team-high 20 assists, makes the correct pass at the correct times.

And he’s become more responsible with the puck. Despite his coming out party last season, Parenteau was still prone to turning the puck over in the offensive zone, especially on the power play. He’s limited those types of miscues this season. There’s a greater confidence in his play in all aspects, from working the wing on the man advantage to gaining the blueline at even strength to backchecking.

And though Parenteau may be small in stature, he’s become a large part of Tavares’ continued development. Now while it’s true the third-year face of the franchise has spent much of the season’s first 31 games trying to find his goal-scoring touch, Tavares hasn’t been lacking in the opportunity department. Though he has just 10 goals, No. 91 has consistently been the Islanders’ most dangerous scoring threat on a nightly basis. He’s all over the place, but due to many things you can’t explain, like bouncing pucks, deflections, pipes and crossbars, and some you can, like stellar goaltending, Tavares’ point production hasn’t skyrocketed like many figured it would coming off a career-high 67-point season.

But there is a better chance he’ll get over his ills with Parenteau at his side for the shifty winger allows Tavares to be what he truly is — not always a playmaker or goal-scorer, but something in between.

A lot is made of General Manager Garth Snow’s uncanny ability to find bargain-basement talent and it’s becoming readily apparent that the signing of Parenteau was as much a stroke of genius as were the acquisitions of Moulson and Michael Grabner. Parenteau has simply become an indispensable part of what the Islanders are trying to do.

It still remains to be seen if Parenteau will become more of a goal-scoring threat. He did net 20 last season but has just 5 this season and often seems more hell-bent on making the perfect pass when the situation calls for a cannon. Throughout parts of 10 seasons in the minors and juniors Parenteau was never proficient at putting the puck in the net, but his 83 goals during parts of three seasons with the Rangers’ affiliate in Hartford shows he may have the potential to one day be a 25-30-goal scorer in the NHL.

Then again, if the guy can register 50 assists at this level, which he’s currently on pace to do — for a team that doesn’t score all that much in the first place, mind you — I’m pretty sure no one will say this kid doesn’t belong.

Of a more pressing concern, Parenteau is only signed through this season. However, as has been their way of doing things, the Islanders have been pretty good at locking up the players they have deemed as vital parts of the future. Parenteau has quickly climbed the in- and offseason ladder of importance.

Snow, if you are reading this piece, do what needs to be done here. Keep that line in tact for the next few years. It’s becoming something the rest of the league clearly has on its radar.

Parenteau may never become a “star” in the true sense, but he’s exactly what the Islanders need now and going forward. He’ll never become the go-to guy, but as a complimentary player, one that seems to make everyone around him better?

You can’t really put a price tag on that.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini

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