Following matching 4-1 losses to the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils earlier this week, the New York Islanders got back to business on and off the ice. On Wednesday, the team’s first cuts were announced ahead of a few days without a game. This was followed by a return to on-ice activities as the Islanders evaluate prospects and make decisions on the remaining opening night roster spots. This includes the sixth spot next to veteran Scott Mayfield, which appears to be Robin Salo’s to lose.
Islanders Training Camp Update
The Islanders announced their first round of cuts on Wednesday, sending 15 players to the Bridgeport Islanders. Players include goaltender Henrik Tikkanen; forwards Collin Adams, Erik Brown, Blade Jenkins, Jeff Kubiak, Daylan Kuefler, Jimmy Lambert, Kyle MacLean, Matthew Maggio, Reece Newkirk, and Chris Terry; and defensemen Trevor Cosgrove, Ryan MacKinnon, Connor McCarthy, and Vincent Sevigny. Goaltender Tristan Lennox was also returned to his junior hockey club, the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit.
None of these cuts should come as a surprise considering the limited space available on the Islanders’ roster heading into the 2022-23 season and the glut of forwards available. The cuts also allow head coach Lane Lambert, his staff, and manager Lou Lamoriello to better evaluate the remaining top-tier prospects, like William Dufour and Aatu Raty, as well as make some decisions on the forwards and defensemen.
At Lambert’s media availability following camp on Wednesday, he had high praise for Raty, who he said has “looked really good” next to some veteran Islanders. ”He’s deserved an opportunity to play with a couple of older guys. Positionally, he’s very sound.”
Lambert also liked what he saw out of Dufour last game, but offered some constructive criticism for the star Canadian Hockey League player. ”Right now, he [Dufour] needs to continue to get faster. His understanding of the game is also developing, and we’re working with him on that. He’s in good shape.”
Though it’s early and it wouldn’t be wise to look too far into lineup choices within the forward group, Lambert did mention that Zach Parise and Mathew Barzal continue to work well together. ”They ended the season together, and they’ve been together so far in camp, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Parise, despite how well he’s played with the Islanders, is not the player fans had in mind to flank Barzal. The lines are largely anyone’s guess at this point, but Parise and Barzal could be something we see a couple of times in the team’s remaining preseason games.
Otto Koivula also joined camp on Wednesday after missing the first week with an injury. The Islanders’ fourth-round pick in the 2016 Draft, Koivula has struggled to earn a spot on the team over the last six seasons. The addition of J.G. Pageau during the 2019-20 season all but assured he would need to go above and beyond to crack the main roster. Even when given a chance with the big club, he hasn’t blown anyone away, collecting just two assists in 20 NHL games during the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons.
There aren’t very many decisions made at this point in training camp that will provide any real insight, but in a telling move by Lambert and the coaching staff, the Islanders have placed their 2017 second-round draft pick next to veteran Scott Mayfield throughout camp. What was thought to be a four-player race for the sixth and only remaining spot on the back-end between Salo, Grant Hutton, Dennis Cholowski, and Sebastian Aho, the spot appears to be Salo’s to lose at this point.
When asked about the remaining spot directly, Lambert said, ”I think there are guys that are stepping ahead a little bit, but again, we have four games left this week.” He ended the availability by saying, ”Like I said at the start of camp, they’ll kind of make the decisions for us to a certain extent.”
That’s definitely a very down-the-middle response, especially considering how much Salo and Mayfield have been skating together so far in camp and how well they played in the Islanders’ loss to the Rangers. The soon-to-be 24-year-old defenseman led the team with five shots on goal and seven attempts in Monday’s game. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz also pointed out that the pair of Salo and Mayfield was also the team’s best in terms of shot attempt percentage.
”Salo and Mayfield were the Islanders’ best pair in terms of shot attempt percentage, with Salo posting a 60.0 percent and Mayfield a 56.7 percent” (From “Islanders Takeaways: What we learned after a pair of preseason games,” The Athletic, 9/28/2022). So despite Lambert’s response on how the roster is shaking out, it’s looking like Salo and Mayfield will indeed make up that third pair barring some major change in the last week or so of camp.
There haven’t been a lot of surprises so far, even with the disappointing losses at the beginning of the week. The team’s top prospects are getting their chance to stick around the team a little longer, and some roster decisions are slowly being solidified as camp continues, including Salo next to Mayfield. The Islanders’ next preseason game is this Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, giving the organization a few more days to implement new systems and test new combinations as they see fit.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.