The Islanders fresh new start has finally arrived as training camp opened in Lake Placid. This camp figures to be especially spirited as many young players look to impress new coach Butch Goring and earn spots. For several Isles prospects this iwill be a make or break season. This is the best and quite possibly last chance for players like Dmitri Nabokov, Vladimir Chebaturkin, Ray Schultz, and Sean Haggerty to win a regular role in the NHL. If some of these older prospects fail to impress don’t expect them to stay in the ISles system much longer. Another floudering prospect continues to be Mike Rupp. Publicly, management has continued to bachk the 9th overall pick but unless he has a break out year he will not be signed and would re-enter the draft. As of now the lumbering winger is not worth the minimum salary for a first round pick which is just under $1 million per season.
Look for the Isles blue line to be enormous this year. Chara and Brewer are coming off solid rookie campaigns and figure to log loads of ice time this year. Brewer has had a productive off season as well bulking up his 6-4 frame to 228 lbs with just 7% body fat. Also, Mike Milbury is hoping that one more mammoth defenseman to make the team this year. Either Branislav Mezei, Kristian Kudroc, or Mathieu Biron will likely be an an Isles uniform this season. The best bet would be Mezei who is intelligent, physical and has been labeled as a can’t miss player. This would make an already babyfaced defense corps even younger but this figures to be developmental season as a club and breaking in another rookie rear guard now would make sense. Two other first round picks will garner long looks this camp. With Mats Lindgren still holding out bot Taylor Pyatt and Tim Connolly wil get a legitimate shot to make the team. Most likely though both will return to the OHL.
In other news the Islanders recently announced an affiliation with the IHL Chicago Wolves. The Isles will place about 7 prospects with the Lowell AHL franchise, while putting their veteran minor leaguers in Chicago. The Isles also have a new ECHL affiliate, the expansion Trenton Tritons. Several players will fill out their roster including most likely 6-5 goaltender Steve Valiquette. This would make him easily available for emergency duty like he saw last season. Steve is coming off a stellar year with Hampton Roads but has had trouble finding a roster opening in the AHL.