After just an 89-day offseason, the Isles are back as Training Camp officially opens today. The New York Islanders will look slightly different after the departures of Nick Leddy and Jordan Eberle, but top to bottom the Isles remain a contender in the Eastern Conference. There are still a few questions left to be answered by Barry Trotz and his staff such as how the new additions will fit into the lineup. Trotz has two weeks to figure it out before opening night in Raleigh on October 14th. Before the Isles hit the ice tomorrow for the first time, let’s break down the five key Islanders to watch during training camp.
- Zdeno Chara
In case you haven’t heard, Big-Z is back. The original Isles draft pick back in 1996 re-signed with the Islanders on a one-year deal and will bring his 1,608 games to the Isles’ defense core. At 44 years of age, Chara is still a serviceable defenseman. He uses his big body and long reach to be an effective penalty killer by blocking shots and easily clearing the front of the net. However, footspeed has always been an issue and it will be interesting to see how Trotz uses him. Sliding him into Nick Leddy’s spot on the second pair doesn’t seem like a great idea given Scott Mayfield’s skating ability. The more realistic option seems to be putting the veteran with smooth skating Noah Dobson which would allow him to think more about offense. It will be interesting to see what Trotz does.
How it started How it’s going pic.twitter.com/g2iOHgRrfq
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 22, 2021
- Zach Parise
The other intriguing signing this offseason was bringing Zach Parise to the Island. Granted, this move should’ve happened 18 years earlier but better late than never. Parise was bought out of his mega 13-year contract with the Minnesota Wild and was immediately tied to the Islanders. The terms of the contract haven’t been released, but it’s believed to be a one-year deal and it’s not up for debate, he’s an Islander and has already been skating with his new teammates. The obvious fit appears to be on the third line on the left side of J-G Pageau, but Trotz may decide to try him on other lines to see if there’s a natural fit. If Parise does end up on the third line, the Isles will have their most dangerous third line in decades.
“It felt like a good fit to me.”
– Zach Parise on joining the #Isles pic.twitter.com/qjRupVVYwW
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 10, 2021
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- Oliver Wahlstrom
Perhaps the question most Islander fans want answered is where will Oliver Wahlstrom play? The second-year winger is entering his first 82-game season in the NHL and could potentially slot in on the first line next to Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee. The first few days of camp will give everybody an indication of what Trotz is thinking. Wahlstrom had good chemistry with J-G Pageau last season on the third line so that might be where he starts. However, I think it’s a good bet that Wahlstrom will get some reps on the top line to see how his lethal shot meshes with Barzal’s playmaking ability and speed. The Isles will need a productive year from Wahlstrom to help fill the scoring void left by Jordan Eberle’s departure.
- The Kids
Lou Lamoriello announced yesterday that the Islanders re-signed Kieffer Bellows and Michael Dal Colle. While they will seemingly serve as extra forwards or could end up in the AHL with the Bridgeport Islanders, it’s always interesting to see the impression they leave on the coaching staff during camp. They both won’t be in the opening night lineup unless an injury occurs, but they could play their way into a role if Trotz likes what he sees. For the first time in a long time, the Islanders are going into the season with a lot of NHL-caliber depth, which is always a good thing, especially this year when the league gets back to the normal grind of an 82-game schedule.
- Erik Gustafsson
It was also announced last week that the Isles brought d-man Erik Gustafsson in on a Professional Tryout (PTO). The 29-year-old Swedish defenseman has had stops in Chicago, Calgary, Philadelphia, and most recently Montreal. He had a career-high 60 points back in 2018-19 for the Blackhawks and could be an interesting option for Trotz on the backend. He could serve as the seventh defenseman and could be valuable by giving some of the Isles’ veteran defensemen a rest throughout the season. Gustafsson signed the PTO knowing nothing was promised to him.
“Erik Gustafsson was a player we had seen when he first came into the league,” Lamoriello said yesterday during a media availability. “He wanted to come knowing we had an opening, but with no promises.”
Overall, Lamoriello likes the team he’s assembled but as always, he’s looking for internal improvement and for the Isles to take this season one game at a time.
“This is where we’re at and we feel very comfortable with it,” Lamoriello said. “We look for improvement of the incumbent people we have here, but we are happy with the group. The most important thing is being as prepared as you possibly can and then just take it one day at a time and building off it. The key is each and every one of us, no matter what our role is, to do things right and just take one thing at a time.”
Follow Ethan on Twitter @egreenberg99