The New York Islanders will head up north to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to begin training camp on Sept. 14 for their 24th season. The team has invited 56 players, a smorgasbord-like group of veterans, prospects and invitees, whom newly-hired head coach Ted Nolan will mix and match as he puts together the new-look Islanders.
Missing the playoffs yet again last season led to the plethora of offseason managerial changes. With the dust having settled following owner Charles Wang’s cleaning house, it’s clear that nothing short of on-ice success is expected of everyone in the organization. This is a great team philosophy for prospects in particular because if a veteran isn’t pulling his weight, it won’t be long before there’s a roster spot open.
There’s no doubt that the Islanders, along with others throughout the NHL, are very excited about the possibilities that left wing Robert Nilsson brings to the ice. He has long since shed any past doubts concerning inconsistency in his play and barring any trades that might bring in another high-profile winger, many are projecting him to make it as a top six-forward this season.
For a middleman worth watching, look no further than high-risk, high-reward prospect Petteri Nokelainen. If his knees hold up, Nokelainen has the ability to play consistent two-way hockey. With the recent injury to fellow standout prospect Ryan O’Marra, who suffered an ankle fracture during routine off-ice exercises, Nokelainen isn’t expected to face much competition in making it on to the team. If he’s physically able to make it throughout the season, he could be seen playing as high as the third line.
Having seen some NHL time last season, prospect Jeff Tambellini seems on the cusp of breaking out this season. The only problem is that the Islanders roster, at the moment, is saturated with veteran wingers and Tambellini, a speedy left winger, would end up riding the pine with one of the lower lines. The Islanders know better than to waste talent like this and he may be sent down to the team’s minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, to keep his development going. If he does well during camp or early in the AHL season, he will surely be donning the blue and orange sooner rather than later.
With Islanders fan-favorite Sean Bergenheim having opted to play for the Russian Elite League this season, a ripe spot is available for prospect Blake Comeau. But that’s easier said than done, as he is expected to battle it out with native New York brothers Chris and Peter Ferraro for the forward position. The issue, once again, comes down to the possibility of there not being enough winger positions available. If spots don’t open up, look for Tambellini to compete along with these three for this coveted spot on the roster.
In all likelihood, the Islanders will have one or two defensive openings available to bring in prospect defensemen. They have three strong choices to choose from in Bruno Gervais, Ryan Caldwell and Dustin Kohn, all of whom are expected to compete heavily with one another for an available spot. It is worth noting that all three of these players are buoyed by the loss of fellow standout prospect defenseman Denis Grebeshkov to Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League.
This season, defenseman Gervais is expected to step it up again. He already impressed the Islanders brass with his play late last season, proving to be a steadfast blueliner with sound defensive ability. However, following the overhaul of many upper Islanders personnel, Gervais will have to prove himself once again, a task many expect him to be up for.
Speaking of opportunity, 6’2 defenseman Caldwell looks to continue his solid play on Long Island. He performed very well for Bridgeport last season, helping them into the postseason and the Islanders expect him to bring that same taste for success into the locker room.
Kohn, a very young and inexperienced defenseman, will likely to be the third choice of the these three, but if the Islanders fall on hard times defensively, as has been the case the past few seasons, Kohn may very well see a call-up.
Between the pipes
The Islanders have locked up their No. 1 goaltender, Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract. As a result, we won’t see many prospect goaltenders competing, at least in the near future, for the No. 1 spot.
Backup goaltender Wade Dubielewicz was signed as a means for giving DiPietro rest every now and then. With that being the case, the Islanders are giving their prospect goaltenders more than enough time to develop into the franchise goalies they will have to become. If DiPietro gets hurt and Dubielewicz becomes No. 1, the two goaltenders who are likely to get the call are Chris Madden, who last saw time with Bridgeport and Mike Mole, who will likely make the leap from the ECHL to the AHL this season.
Friday, September 22 at 7:00 pm Boston Bruins, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Saturday, September 23 at 7:00 pm Boston Bruins, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Monday, September 25 at 7:00 pm New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden
Friday, September 29 at 7:30 pm New York Rangers, Nassau Coliseum
Saturday, September 30 at 7:00 pm New Jersey Devils, Bridgeport Connecticut
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