The Islanders are in their third season of the youth movement that Garth Snow started in his second year as General Manager – this isn’t news to any Islanders fan that has had the patience to stick around after one losing season after the other. But this year was supposed to be different; the organization as well as all of its fans were expecting this team to take a big leap forward. That hasn’t been the case as the Islanders sit at the bottom of the NHL standings by a good ten points.
That’s what happens when two of the top players go down and the guys that were brought in to replace them end up getting hurt as well, forcing players to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL a lot sooner than most expected. The problem is that some of the call-ups have done well but may be making an adjustment that is too soon in their development, especially since there are not enough veterans to help with the transition.
Matt Martin, who is one of the big hitters on the team, has only one goal in the 17 games he’s played and is -10 with 28 penalty minutes. One can assume that the franchise doesn’t expect Martin to only become a solid fourth liner. He has the tools to be a forward that can contribute somewhere on the second or third line; he crashes the net, bangs bodies at all times, has improved his skating and has decent hands as well. He has become a fan favorite but can probably accomplish a lot more if he was still in Bridgeport fine-tuning certain aspects of his game that could use improvement.
Travis Hamonic, who is in his first year of professional hockey, has looked very comfortable on the blue-line and has eaten up some big minutes despite his lack of experience. In five games played he has one assist along with a +1 rating and four penalty minutes. However, Travis is only playing because of the injuries to Streit, Mottau, Jurcina and Gervais. He’ll likely be sent back down to the minors once these players start to make their return, and that’s a good thing. Hamonic has shown the capabilities of becoming a solid top-4 defenseman and will possibly look great paired up with his past World Juniors teammate, Calvin de Haan. Although he was one player I predicted to earn NHL action before the year was over, Hamonic should finish his season where it started to continue to work on all areas of his game.
Jesse Joensuu has been with the team for some time now and really wants to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff so that he stays with the big club. He only has one goal in the seven games he has appeared in. His best game was against the New Jersey Devils a little over a week ago, which is the game that he scored his only goal. Ironically, it was the last time the Islanders won a game. He was earning top-line minutes in Bridgeport and was one of the team’s leading scorers which probably warrants higher expectations put on him by the coaching staff, as well as himself. Now is as good a time as any to prove that this is where he belongs.
But it would definitely be more helpful for a player like Joensuu to do that if others weren’t all trying to do the same thing. Guys like Grabner and Parenteau are playing to stay with an NHL team. Others, such as Blake Comeau, are fighting to show that they can contribute consistently on the top three lines. Unfortunately, due to the team’s scoring woes, no one has put up top-line numbers on offense.
A strong veteran presence would help this team move forward. Doug Weight and Trent Hunter are considered two of the biggest leaders but have been out with injuries. Even so, both players were struggling to find their way onto the score sheet before they were forced to sit out. A guy like John Tavares can really use a winger that can open up space for him in the offensive zone. Josh Bailey can really learn from a veteran play-maker since the Islanders drafted him for his on-ice vision and leadership qualities. Right now he’s working on those areas in Bridgeport since he really hit a speed bump, going pointless in 13 games straight.
The only active veterans on this team in regards to the forwards are Jon Sim, Zenon Konopka and Trevor Gillies. Sim and Gillies are often seen as healthy scratches when others are healthy and can be sent to the minors since they are on two-way contracts; they were players that were signed to play on the fourth line, not to mentor the development of the team’s future. Konopka has proven to be a valuable leader, penalty killer and enforcer. But Konopka is not the one who is going to help this team take the next step. His role is an important one and his mentality has been contagious in the locker room, but more needs to be contributed from other players that can accomplish more than him.
Weight and Hunter’s return cannot come soon enough. Not necessarily to help the team win, but to help them grow.