It has certainly been exciting times for the New York Islanders as they are coming off their first run to the Eastern Conference Final in 27 seasons. The Islanders are entirely out of their rebuild with head coach Barry Trotz. They also have a Hall-of-Fame general manager, Lou Lamoriello, running the team, and two new owners in Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin.
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They still have one coach though that remains from the Garth Snow era, former Islanders’ assistant and current Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach, Brent Thompson. While the results have not been there, he was able to pass Jack Capuano in all-time wins with 134 in what can best be described as an up-and-down tenure. Let’s take a look at what he has done and perhaps his future as many of Snow’s staff have been replaced.
The Islanders have had many talented players suit up for Thompson. In his first season, he coached five players currently on the NHL roster, including their captain Anders Lee and three starting defensemen in Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield. Pulock was a former first-round pick, but Pelech was a middle-round selection. The two have blossomed into one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL.
Mayfield has followed a similar path and has been a mainstay with the Islanders for the past couple of seasons and Thompson deserves some credit there. He has also coached some experienced veterans in Steve Bernier, Matt Carkner, and Stephen Gionta to help with the young prospects and got the most from them. Bernier spent time on the first line and had 37 goals in two seasons in the AHL after the veteran played most of his career in the NHL.
One area his forwards have improved is in the defensive end. Casey Cizikas has become one of the most reliable two-way forwards in the league and spent time with Thompson in 2011-12. Cizikas was a prospect that was a talented goal-scorer in his OHL career. While his point totals have increased throughout his NHL career, he became a much better defensive player and is now one of the Islanders’ most reliable penalty killers.
That theme is similar in players like Anthony Beauvillier and Otto Koivula. They always had the offense to succeed in the NHL but have come up and now know how to kill penalties and play a strong all-around style of hockey.
Thompson demands a lot from his players and is an intense coach. It was never more noticeable than when he was an NHL assistant under Capuano and received a game misconduct and two-game suspension after his displeasure with an official in 2013.
When Thompson has coached former first-round picks, some have not been able to produce in the NHL after they are called-up. Griffin Reinhart and Josh Ho-Sang have been two exciting prospects that the Islanders drafted and did not live up to expectations. Between the two players, they have combined to play in 90 NHL games.
Michael Dal Colle is another player that Thompson has tried to develop, but the young forward has yet to stick in the NHL. He put up a strong season in 2018-19 in the AHL but struggled in his first two seasons in the NHL. Dal Colle was on the roster for the Islanders in the playoffs, though he was a healthy scratch and did not produce much offense in his chances. He only has seven goals in 85 NHL games.
The other area concerning Thompson has been the inability for him to have success in the postseason. He has coached teams that have been at the top and at the bottom of the AHL yet he has no playoff series victories as a head coach.
He has made the postseason on three separate occasions, including his first year in Bridgeport. In that first appearance in 2011-12, the Sound Tigers were swept in the first round and managed only three goals in the three games in their series against the Connecticut Whale.
The Sound Tigers made it again in 2015-16, and were once again swept and outscored 13-5 in the three games against the Toronto Marlies. They went on to miss the playoffs the next two seasons, and Thompson won his first two playoff games in 2018-19, but the Sound Tigers lost in five games. Before this 2019-20 shutdown, Bridgeport had the second-fewest points in the AHL through 63 games with 53.
Thompson is a former defenseman who played 121 games in the NHL. He was a hard worker and played a simple game and expects that from all of his players. While he didn’t have a long career, his worth ethic got him to the NHL, and continues with that philosophy as a head coach. He will always be a defensive-minded coach.
Thompson follows the Islanders’ philosophy of playing all four lines and six defensemen. He will manage the ice-time similar to how Capuano did and now how Trotz does with this Islanders.
Thompson did something very unique this season with all of his young draft picks. While they haven’t always worked out in the past, he placed three former first-round picks in Simon Holmstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Oliver Wahlstrom on a line together. While all three players coming up to the NHL at the same time is unlikely with the depth New York has, they will have experience playing together, which can be valuable.
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It is never easy being the last remaining piece of a former regime, but the reality is, entering 2020-21, Thompson will need to have a strong year if he wants to remain in the organization. The Islanders are going to need their players ready to go when they are called-up as Trotz has had no problem sitting players he feels do not help his team.