A Cluster Of Youth Makes For A Roster Logjam, Which Is Good News

Going into this season the New York Islanders are in a very unique position compared to what they have been in the past. They are a team that is confident having come off of an unexpected and impressive playoff appearance last year. They have organizational depth that has built up nicely from sticking to their rebuilding plan and drafting well. To supplement that, they have made smart signings and waiver additions that both have and are looking to make an impact in the NHL. With the majority of the roster already set, it will be these players that are fighting to stay in the bottom lines that could ultimately have the biggest impact on how the Islanders do this season.
The group of players that I am referring to are forwards Peter Regin, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Johan Sundstrom. On defense these players include Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and junior long shot Griffin Reinhart. The previously mentioned players are bubble NHL/AHL players with the exception ofReinhart, who has far exceeded expectations thus far in camp. Reinhart will undoubtedly get his 9 game look in the NHL before a decision is made, but if he does not stick around with the Islanders he will be returned to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL for a final year of development. How these players contribute to the organization this coming year will have a profound effect on the Islanders hopes for the postseason. The teams that make it late into April and beyond have the depth to compete without having to rely solely on their top players. The Chicago Blackhawks epitomized this theory because they not only won the Stanley Cup, but likely wouldn't have done so without the contributions of role players such as Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. The ability of players in reduced roles to rise to the occasion and pick up their team when needed goes a long way in the long term success of any particular franchise.
As always, the Islanders will face many challenges in 2013-2014 which is nothing new for the players or us as fans to acknowledge. It isn't that these role players and young guys cannot rise to the occasion, but they do not have much experience between them to show for. The most experienced of the group is Peter Regin. The Danish forward signed as a free agent was formerly a member of the Ottawa Senators. Regin has had his share of ups and downs and is coming off of a down year that saw him split time between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton. General Manager Garth Snow and the rest of the Islanders fan base are hoping he can have a rejuvenation playing with fellow Herning, Denmark native Frans Nielsen. Regin does also have a history of injuries but if he can find his groove and at the very least be a consistent player, he is a valuable depth asset as he has a ton of speed to go with his ability.
Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome are the next two forwards in line to make contributions on Long Island. Going into camp it was viewed by many as a battle between these two guys for the final open forward spot with the club. But with the injury to Cal Clutterbuck it stands to be a very real possibility that both of these players could make the opening night roster, even if it is just until Clutterbuck returns. Both are skilled and highly touted prospects league wide. They have very different styles as Nelson is a dynamic grinder and Strome has the hands and finesse that could see him develop into an elite scorer in this league. Nelson has the advantage at the moment being that he has a full year to add to his resume in Bridgeport and one game in the NHL, which of course was game 6 of the playoffs against the Penguins.
Anders Lee and Johan Sundtrom figure to be spending the entire year in Bridgeport fine tuning the specific areas of their game needed to make the full time jump to the next level. This past year, after Lee had finished his season at the University of Notre Dame, he was brought to Long Island to see how he sized up against the pros. In two games with the big club he notched one goal and one assist. The most impressive stat however is that he scored his first goal on his first ever shot against Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. The critique of Lee, from what I have been reading is defensive zone responsibility and strength on the puck. If he can adjust appropriately he has the ability have a huge impact on this team in the near future. He also very well could be an injury call up if the situation arises. Sundstromseems to be more of a long shot for this team. He had a good year in the AHL last year but is figured to be a bottom 6 forward at the NHL level. He has impressed me so far this preseason because has been more than adequate in the face-off circle posting a better than 50% win ratio in the games he has been in so far.
On defense, Matt Donovan seems to be the man who will be called on to fill the void left by Mark Streit. Donovan has posted huge numbers for a defenseman in theAHL where he has 98 total points in 153 career games with with Sound Tigers. The Oklahoma native is responsible defensively and has the obvious ability to contribute offensively and quarterback a power play. Next in line  to Donovan would be Calvin de Haan. The former 12th overall pick in 2009 has a ton of upside but has been plagued by numerous shoulder injuries starting the year after he was drafted with Oshawa of the OHL and continued through last year in Bridgeport. His upside may even be higher than that of Donovan, but with the constant set backs many feel this is his last chance to make an impact. From a strictly personal stand point, I'm pulling for this guy because I cannot imagine what it has been like for him to have gone through all of this so early in his career.As previously mentioned with Reinhart, he will likely get a 9 game look in Uniondale as he has shown offensive ability and poise well beyond his young age. A showing like he is currently having sticks out even more due to the fact scouting reports on him never highlighted his offensive contributions as one of his strong points. In my honest opinion, even though he deserves the 9 games because of how he has played there is no reason to rush him. The Islanders finally have the luxury of organizational depth and another year in juniors certainly can't hurt.
(flickr/Chris D. Dixon)
There is without question a wealth of talent and potential for the young, lower half of the Islanders lineup. It really does not matter for this team which of these players makes the team, what matters is that whoever does make the cut contributes and can be relied on. Their battle will be with each other to stay in the lineup and be relied on. Competition is always a good thing and it is a luxury the Islanders have not had in a while. To be able to say they are waiting on whoever makes themselves stick out is a tribute to the work of Snow and how he has structured the organization is his tenure. For whoever does not make the team, there is no shame in playing in the AHL. The worlds best developmental league is given that nickname for a reason, and it is a play where they can log a lot of minutes until their time comes. It will be just as important for whoever is playing across the Long Island Sound to mature as best they can because their call can come at anytime. When it does, they will have to be ready to be at least as effective than whoever they are replacing or filling in for. Given the skill that these players already have, it is up to them to want it bad enough to be in the NHL sooner rather than later. As fans we should be excited about this situation because if the right combination of this group makes an impact, we could be in for an amazing season for the second year in a row.
Bryan Curran
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