Final Thoughts On Camp And The Sound Tigers Release 25 Man Roster

  With the preseason now behind us, Isles fans everywhere can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as the moment we have all been waiting for is upon us. The Isles are on the verge of playing the first meaningful games since the heart breaking game 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last May. We have all been eager to pick up right where we left off after exceeding all expectations last season. With all of this in mind, we can only hope for the success to continue so the Islanders can take their place among the elite teams of the NHL. Although the outcome of this coming season is yet to be determined, I think I speak for Islander fans everywhere when I say this is the most confident we have been in the last 20 years.
(flickr/Robert Kowal)
 The preseason, as with any season had its share of ups and downs for the fans. The eight games the Islanders played started with a split squad loss at the hands of the Calgary Flames. In the wake of the 5-3 and 4-2 losses to the Flames, the Isles rebounded with a decisive 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils in Newark. Shortly after came the debut of hockey in Brooklyn. Feelings in regard to this milestone in Isles history were very mixed depending on who you spoke to. Excitement for the state of the art Barclays Center and dismay over the eventual departure from Uniondale were heard loud and clear along with every other emotion in between. The Devils convincingly shut the Islanders out 3-0. Cory Schneiders' play made me question if Vancouver GM Mike Gillis was thinking clearly when he traded him to the Devils. I don't care how good Bo Horvat is expected to be, if Cory Schneider plays how he did that night on a regular basis, this will be a trade that haunts the Canucks for a very long time. The loss as Barclays would be the first of back to back shutouts as the Islanders lost their next game 2-0 to the Predators in Nashville. Redemption came shortly after for the Isles as they hosted the Predators at their only game at the Nassau Coliseum of the preseason. The result was a 6-4 win behind a 2 goal effort from newly appointed captain, John Tavares. From my personal experience at this game, the Islanders were very convincing in their win and a 6-4 final is not indicative of how the game actually went. The power play was systematic and had a purpose. The forecheck was established early and persisted for about 50 minutes until they let the Predators claw back near the end of the game. Most notably however was how the Islanders made former Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne look inexperienced. Rinne gave up 5 goals on 24 shots in two periods of work which is not a common occurrence for the goaltender. Closing out the tune up games, the Islanders had one final split squad matchup, this time with the Ottawa Senators. Fortunately, this set of games went differently for us as the Isles won both games, 5-2 and 4-1 respectively. With these scattered results there were times of massive pride and others of extreme concern for most fans, but with all things considered there is every reason to believe that the Islanders will be playing more than 82 games this year.
  Putting aside how the Isles did in their 8 games, training camp carried a series of story lines involving players that gave us hope as well as lingering concern. A deep laceration to the leg of Cal Clutterbuck during the first game in Calgary is one that set him back 4-6 weeks. Clutterbuck was going in on the forecheck and finished a hit on the Flames' Paul Byron who inadvertently got Clutterbuck's leg with his skate. Skate injuries are a rare happening, but when they do occur they seem to be severe (see Malarchuk, Zednik, Karlsson and Kabanov), so we can only hope that 4-6 weeks is all it will be. The next Islander to go down was Kyle Okposo when the Islanders played the Devils in Brooklyn. Okposo took a stick to the eye and missed about a week but has since returned as the injury missed the eye itself by a small margin. Then most recently, in a game against the Senators Travis Hamonic left with what was reported to be either a head or shoulder injury. To my knowledge it was never fully clarified, but yesterday Arthur Staple of Newsday revealed on his Twitter account that Hamonic skated with the team and looks to be on target for the opener. These three injuries are not as bad as they could have been when looking at the bigger picture. As far as the regular season goes, the only loss is Clutterbuck which will be for about 2 weeks.
Going along with the negative these injuries brought, there were a lot of positives to take away from camp so here are 5 that I took note of.
1) Griffin Reinhart exceeded expectations and is getting at the very least his 9 game look.
  I have mentioned this before but I can't say enough about how Reinhart has displayed his ability in camp this year. For a guy who is known as more of a defensivedefenseman, he displayed that he is well equipped to get his name on the score sheet as well. He looked at home jumping into the play and even scored a goal against Calgary. This is a guy who many thought would be spending another year with his junior team in Edmonton, but he made the decision to send him back as hard on Garth Snow and Jack Capuano as he possibly could have. If it turns out that Reinhart is retained, he can say with full confidence that he earned every ounce of it.
2) Matt Donovan and Brock Nelson earned the spots that they were expected to get.
  Leading up to the start of camp there was much discussion as to what players would be stepping in to fill the open spots on both offense and defense. Donovan and Nelson were the front runners but Nelson knew he would be battling Ryan Strome and Donovan knew he had challengers in Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart to name a few. Even though they were predicted to be the ones claiming those spots nothing was set in stone, but their stellar play in the preseason locked them into the lineup. Strome and de Haan were returned to Bridgeport camp but look for those two to be with the Islanders first if a call up is needed.
3) Ryan Pulock is going to be a very, very good player.
  Knowing that defensemen typically take longer to develop it was expected that Pulock would be 2-3 years away from securing a spot in the NHL, but he showed that he may be in an Islanders uniform even sooner then most of us thought. Pulock was returned to his junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings but not without leaving an impression. His most note worthy performance was against the Ottawa Senators three nights ago. He scored a goal and it was an absolute blast from the point. His slap shot is indeed as hard as we have been hearing about. The beauty of that goal was the fact that it was assisted by Reinhart and Strome, which further drove home the fact that the last three first round picks are going to be key contributors to the Islanders organization for years to come. After being returned to the Wheat Kings, he tallied 2 goals and 2 assists in his first game back.
4) Josh Bailey earned himself a spot on the top line, I think.
  Jack Capuano was clearly not impressed with how Pierre-Marc Bouchard fit on the top line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Not long into the preseason,Bouchard was demoted to the third line and it was Josh Bailey on the first line wing with Michael Grabner moving up to the second line. That seemed to be the way the lines were going to stay but today in practice it was reported that Kyle Okposo was skating on the first line, and Bailey was back on the second. If your head is spinning, don't worry mine is too. To be perfectly honest I don't think Bouchard was given enough time to get chemistry established with Tavares and Moulson. Bailey played well with that line at the end of the preseason so it puzzles me as to why there was another change, but I guess that's why I'm a blogger and not a coach. We could conceivably see Eric Boulton on the top line for all I know, but the point is that Bailey has played well and has earned ice time along with the 5 year contract he signed this summer.
5) This is a dangerously fast team that will give the opposition fits every game.
  Speed was already a strong asset for the Islanders last year. The undisputed fastest man in the league, Michael Grabner headlined a team that featured other players that are quick in their own right such as Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and even Casey Cizikas. With the additions of Bouchard and Peter Regin, I would hate to be a defenseman caught flatfooted against this team. The penalty kill will also benefit from the added speed given how easily it can change momentum. Watching this team skate is going to be one of the most exciting things to witness this year.
  All things considered it looks like this is going to be another good year for the Islanders and their fans. Of course, their success is contingent upon their consistency in a lot of different areas, but there is no reason that this team can't contend for the playoffs.
Bridgeport Releases 25 Man Roster for Opening night
According to their website, the Sound Tigers will be starting the season with the following players;
Forwards- Chris Bruton, Jason Clark, Joe Diamond, Brett Gallant, Mike Halmo, Justin Johwardsnson, Kirill Kabanov, Anders Lee, Greg Miller, John Persson, Alan Quine, Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom and Riley Wetmore
Defensemen- Marc Cantin, Mike Dalhuisen, Calvin de Haan, Joe Finley, Dallas Jackson, Mike Keenan, Scott Mayfield, Aaron Ness and Andrey Pedan
Goalies- Anders Nilsson and Ken Reiter
(flickr/Doug Kerr)
A few thoughts on the Sound tigers before the season gets underway;
- If Ryan Strome starts off hot he will undoubtedly replace anyone in Uniondale that isn't pulling their weight. Other than Tavares, I don't think anyone is immune. Strome is on the cusp and will be hungry after losing his battle with Nelson for the final forward spot on the Islanders. Nelson earned his place, but I think he was favored a bit given the full year of AHL experience that he had. There is no question that Strome is the more talented player, but more professional experience in Bridgeport can't hurt.
- The situation seems to be the same for Anders Lee but on a smaller scale. There is no doubt that Lee will be a good NHL player in the near future but there are aspects of his game he needs to fine tune before he will be ready for the full time jump. Things like puck possession/protection and defensive zone play need to be improved, but like Strome if Lee starts off well there is no reason that he won't get a call up if someone is under performing.
- This is likely Kirill Kabanov's last chance to show improvement. We all know he is talented but at some point he needs to prove the hype is legitimate, and that time is now. Last year was marred by a freak skate injury to the hand/wrist so he is getting a bit of an extended chance. The potential is there and if he wants to stick around he needs his play to support it. Personally, I hope he does finally get to where he is capable of being because that would be a huge weapon for the Islanders.
- I am pulling for Joe Diamond big time. The Long Island native could very well develop into a productive player and would be nice to see a local talent end up in an Islanders jersey.
- Hopefully Calvin de Haan can stay healthy this year and get a call up at some point. Obviously I am not hoping  that anyone gets injured or plays poorly, but after all of the setbacks de Haan has had to date it would be a good story if he did make it up to the NHL once and for all. He has been a class act and has worked his tail off to recover from his injuries so I've got my fingers crossed.
- Lets see what Scott Mayfield has in a full year with Bridgeport. He played a few games at the end of last season after his final season at the University of Denver came to a close, but it was a very small sample size. This kid has a lot of up side and plays a physical game. Mayfield is one of the players I have been waiting to see ever since he was drafted. He has the style of play that fans are going to love, quote me.
- Anders Nilsson needs to be ready to play in the NHL. I am in no way saying he isn't already because I think he will ultimately be better than Kevin Poulin, but it isn't just about Poulin. Putting aside the chance that Poulin doesn't play well enough, Evgeni Nabokov is 38 years old now and if he under performs or gets hurt Nilsson will all of a sudden have a ton of responsibility. The Isles success will depend on one of these 3 having a good season, so lets hope that Nilsson will be ready if needed.
  That's all I have for now. If any of you Islander fans in Connecticut don't have any plans yet, the Sound Tigers open their season on Saturday at 7pm against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Drive down to Bridgeport and see how the future Isles look. If you do decide to attend, bring canned goods as the Sound Tigers will be accepting donations to benefit the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. Support a good cause and see the future live.
Isles hockey is back!!!
Bryan Curran
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