As of now heading into training camp the Islanders have eight defenseman, ready to suit up for opening night. This mix includes established front end blue liners, talented youngsters and depth defenseman.
Over the last couple of years New York has made strong improvements in their play from their D-Men. Having said that for this franchise to take the next big step in terms of development and becoming an Eastern Conference contender, more gains must be made regarding the team’s defensive play (from both the defenseman and forwards).
The Core Three
You heard of the Yankees core four correct? Well when it comes to the Islanders defenseman they are lead by their core three. This group consists of Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic. All three are going to be strong contributors for New York for years to come. All three are also locked up contract wise to long term deals. Each brings a different skill set but on top of this trio being top winning players to build around on the ice, they are also leaders off the ice.
Promising youngsters are on the scene for New York. Calvin de Haan has already arrived (has 117 NHL games under his belt), and top prospects Ryan Pulock (first round pick 2013) and Scott Mayfield (second round pick 2011) appear ready to start their NHL career. Mayfield only has a handful of NHL games under his name, although two of them are playoff games (played in games 6 & 7 in last years first round loss to the Caps). Ryan Pulock has yet to make his NHL debut.
In terms of de Haan he has the skill set to be a very good second pairing defenseman. Big concern with de Haan is staying healthy, especially his left shoulder which has given him trouble in the past. Mayfield projects as a strong, smart, physical defenseman with a stay at home style. Pulock by far has the biggest ceiling of this young trio. Pulock is big and strong (6’2, 214 lbs), is a gifted offensive player, has a huge shot and should be a monster on the power play. The caution flag is young defenseman do take time to develop and this trio of promising youngsters will make their share of mistakes along the way. Finally, the Isles have a number of other prospects on the blue line developing at Bridgeport in the AHL as well.
Ryan Pulock hits 105 and 102 MPH in the fastest shot competition. #Isles
— Daniel Friedman (@DanJFriedman) July 9, 2015
The Islanders have two good third pairing defenseman in Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait. Hickey just inked a three year extension ($6.6 million) earlier this summer. Strait is on the last year of his deal with a miniscule cap hit of $775,000. Since Strait is a UFA after next season and with the Islanders depth of young defenseman in the organization, this will be the last year he wears the blue and orange. Neither Hickey or Strait will blow you away but both should be solid third pairing D-Men and give the support the big three need during the course of next season.
Going into this offseason I felt if the Islanders could find the right veteran defenseman that was something they had to look long and hard at in terms of adding to their squad. For my money Johnny Oduya was a perfect fit for these young Islanders on and off the ice. The fact that he signed just a two year deal at $3.75 million a year, the Islanders needed to be one of the clubs in the final talks for Oduya’s services.
At the end of the day, New York may not have been his choice but the Islanders had to be players for Oduya, especially on a two year deal. GM Garth Snow must have felt his talented youngsters are ready for prime time minutes and Oduya would have taken both playing time and development away from them. I can understand that point but what if one of the Islanders big three defenseman go down for an extended period of time next season? I would like to have a little more insurance on the blue line. It should be an interesting training camp as the Islanders have eight defenseman and only six will suit up for opening night.
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