For the first time in three seasons, the New York Islanders find themselves with some downtime in May. The 2021-22 season threw a laundry list of problems at the club following the back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinal appearances. But even with the season in the books, there are still plenty of news items around the franchise, including the Bridgeport Islanders and two Islanders heading to the Men’s World Hockey Championship in Finland.
Aatu Raty Arrives, Helps Bridgeport Islanders Advance
For the first time since 2003, the Bridgeport Islanders have advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. With the help of Aatu Raty, the 52nd-overall pick by the Islanders in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and his overtime goal, his first in North America, the American Hockey League (AHL) Islanders’ season continues. Many wondered if Raty would get some time with the Islanders as their season wound down, but that seemed unlikely from the start for a few reasons.
The first, the NHL Islanders team deserved to finish this season with the current roster. Players have said countless times how proud they were of their roster and one another despite the results, and during a year of disappointment, they deserve to have a moment to finish what they started. Second, to put Raty into the lineup during a down year might not bode well for his development, especially considering the current lineup and lack of room up front.
Related: Islanders Top Moments at UBS Arena in 2021-22
Third, and lastly, time in Bridgeport during the team’s Calder Cup run – playing for something – with a group of young players and veterans is a great introduction for the 19-year-old forward. It’s also a good transition for him; he’s used to playing with grown adults in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liga) but could use some time to acclimate himself to North American-sized rinks. Getting a cup of coffee in the NHL and then going to Bridgeport would have been clunky. Better to have him get the two games in the regular season to meet his teammates and then go into the playoffs. All in all, it seems to be working out just fine in Bridgeport, and head coach Brent Thompson agrees.
“I’m excited for him obviously being rewarded,” Thompson said following the conclusion of round one. “Since he’s been here he’s working extremely hard. He has a great shot, a great release and he comes across the blueline tonight and got rewarded by putting the puck to the net in the right spot. He had a number of chances earlier, mostly to be shooting at high and wide and he dialed it down. I thought he did a nice job.”
It’s also worth noting that Corey Schneider has been spectacular for Bridgeport, stopping 75-of-77 shots in their two-game sweep of the Providence Bruins. Schneider also tied an AHL career-high with 46 saves. He last played in the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2010 with the Manitoba Moose. Bridgeport will face the Charlotte Checkers in the second round. Game 1 is on Tuesday, May 10, in Bridgeport.
Barzal Joins Team Canada
It’s not the Winter Olympics, but Mathew Barzal is likely really excited to be joining Team Canada for this year’s Men’s World Hockey Championship. It will be the first time he’ll be playing for Team Canada since the 2017-18 World Championship, where he had seven assists in 10 games. It’s also an opportunity to not only get the bad taste out of his mouth from this season but to put his hair down and relax.
Barzal often looked frustrated, trying to do too much with the puck, and mentioned that the lack of chemistry throughout the season due to injuries and COVID-19 was difficult to work through. The results certainly prove that to be true, and this opportunity to play with Team Canada with different players may help him relax as he heads into the offseason and begins to think about the 2022-23 season.
“I don’t think frustration is the right word,” Barzal said. “Just disappointed, maybe, that things didn’t click as quickly as I wanted to with guys going down with COVID and guys getting hurt and (going) in and out of the lineup. It was tough to find that chemistry. I pride myself on being a centerman that can play with anyone. Just unfortunate that we didn’t put more pucks in the back of the net.”From “The Islanders’ 5 biggest offseason priorities as they look to return to contention in 2022-23,” The Athletic 5/1/2022
The good news is, that this past season hasn’t changed his outlook on the team and his desire to remain an Islander. During his exit interview, Barzal said “This is home. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win. I love my life here. […] I would love to sign long-term here.” There’s a worry the team is in the same situation they were in with John Tavares; the team needing to find scoring help for a young superstar, ultimately failing to do so. And while this does sound familiar, the tone and directness from Barzal were certainly different in the best way possible, a good sign a deal will get done. As for finding Barzal help, that’s a different matter entirely.
Barzal isn’t the only Islander heading to the World Championships. Kieffer Bellows is joining Team USA after an up and down season with the Islanders. This could be a really important moment for his development. It’s a chance to play a little higher in the lineup and find his game under a different coach and system. He’s shown flashes of his skill throughout his short time in the NHL albeit with limited playing time, so this should be good for him. The World Championships run from May 13-29 in Finland.
With the offseason under a microscope, and the team looking toward an offseason of change, the Bridgeport playoff run and two young players heading to Finland may keep Islander fans preoccupied as Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz begin their focus on the summer.