Despite the Islanders having a few developing prospects in their farm system in years past that would be invited to training camp, it was almost guaranteed that the rosters were set with players such as Michael Peca, Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and so on. But over the past two or three years the Islanders have given opportunities to those who have earned it, and although Garth Snow has kept his core in tact and has kept veterans Doug Weight and Jon Sim while adding Milan Jurcina and Mark Eaton, there are still roster spots open for the taking.
Training camp is now officially under way and there is a good feel around Long Island. Everyone involved with that team is expecting big things this year, starting at the top of the organization and going all the way down to the zamboni driver. Many fans are on the same page, but there are a wide range that are disappointed with the fact that a top-six forward wasn’t added. It’s hard to blame them because it would certainly increase the hype and give a stronger reason to believe. But don’t be surprised if the Islanders are going to look for that forward from within.
I’ve talked about P.A. Parenteau a handful of times since he has the opportunity to be this year’s Matt Moulson. He recently told Chris Botta at Islanders Point Blank that he feels confident in his abilities to be a full-time NHL player:
“That last stretch of games with the Rangers really had a positive effect on my game. I’m a different player than Matty Moulson, but I’m in a similar situation and look what happened with him. I love the attitude I saw out there from my new teammates today. I think I’m ready to play an important role for the Islanders.”
The players are able to see their opportunities with this club and draw comparisons to those who have had the same situation work out for them in the past. Garth Snow has built this team by developing from within, giving those that were here a chance to prove themselves and providing a spot for new comers looking for a place to establish their career.
One forward that will almost certainly get a chance to start his NHL career right away is Nino Niederreiter. I recently wrote a post at The Checking Line discussing whether or not El Nino will be sent back to Junior or start his professional development with the big club starting this October. The article can be found here: http://thecheckingline.com/blog/rob-mcgowan/new-york-islanders/will-el-nino-rain-down-long-island-year. It was a definite that John Tavares was going to start the season with the Islanders right out of the draft since he had already dominated the OHL, proving that there was nothing left for him to gain from another season in Junior. Josh Bailey showed that he had the mentality and strength to play with the big boys in the NHL during his 8-game stint two years ago and it became a no-brainer for Head Coach Scott Gordon to keep him around. In the previous year, Kyle Okposo was taken out of college and sent to Bridgeport mid-season and ended up playing a handful of games in the NHL before scoring his first goal against the New Jersey Devils on Martin Brodeur. Although he recently turned 18, Nino isn’t a kid; he already looks like a fully grown adult at 6’2 and 203 pounds. He has some flashy moves and is a strong skater. Expect Gordon to give the 5th overall pick a chance to prove himself at the start of the season before making a final decision.
Two of the top defenseman from Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan, are looking to get their professional careers started as well. For Travis it’s either the Islanders or Bridgeport, but Calvin may be sent back to the OHL after missing time with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Yet it is important to remember that de Haan was one of the last cuts made by Gordon at last year’s training camp and pre-season. Defenseman typically take longer to develop and being rushed to the NHL can be more detrimental to their development than it would a forward. If a forward makes a mistake by missing wide on a shot or fanning on a pass, they can recover or rely on their defenseman for help. But if a defenseman gets caught out of position it can quickly turn into a goal or can immediately put all the pressure on the goaltender. Hamonic and de Haan are in good hands with Snow and Gordon since they are both focused on developing them properly. Hence why there is a log jam on defense.
It’s going to take a lot of impressive work for these guys to crack the NHL line-up with Eaton and Jurcina signed along with Wisniewski, Martinek, Streit, MacDonald, Hillen and Gervais. However, if these guys stand out above players that are already considered locks for the opening night roster, Gordon will continue to do what he has done in the past and provide Nassau Coliseum fans with the best team possible on opening night.
These guys are all participating in the rookie games that have been held, most recently the two against the Boston Bruins’ rookie squad. Although both games ended in losses for the Isles, these mentioned players have found their way on the score sheet. Hamonic was seen in the box for five minutes in both games, displaying his willingness to toss the mits and flair the fists; Nino did the same, although he might want to keep the gloves on and keep scoring goals, which he has also done; Kirill Kabanov, the good/bad boy from Russia, has found the back of the net as well. These guys know they have to stand out and be involved on every shift they take and they are doing just that. Keep in mind that even if these guys work their tails off and show they deserve a chance, they will only get the opportunity if they prove they can either be on the top three lines or in the top four D-pairings; they won’t be limited to five minutes a game when they can play at a lesser level and get more ice time.
It’s an exciting time for the New York Islanders with this abundance of youthful talent waiting for their chances to prove their worth. Expect some to start on October 9th when the Isles kick the season off against the Dallas Stars.