With the season QUICKLY approaching, I had the pleasure of speaking with Islanders Radio Play by Play man, Chris King, yesterday evening and it was a very informative interview. First, I just want to say you won’t meet anyone like Chris in this business. He’s truly a gentleman, he’s extremely knowledgeable about the team and doesn’t shy away from any question. Truly one of the best commentators in the game today. He went out of his way to answer all my questions and I can’t thank him enough.
Anyway, let’s get started:
N(Nick): Let’s talk about the end of last season and the strong ending. What do you think the start of the season will look like with the new coaching staff? With guys like Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier, what kind of start do you expect from this team?
CK (Chris King): Yes, absolutely like you mentioned both young kids showed a lot. Both being teenagers last year they really showed that they can play at this level. I think they would’ve both been battling for a roster spot this year if it weren’t for the injuries to Alan Quine and Shane Prince, it almost makes them a lock for a roster spot. I don’t want to say a lock for sure for Beauvy because he’s still in a little bit more of a battle than Ho-Sang. Ho-Sang really opened some eyes last year with his call up at the end of the season. A great opportunity for those guys, to not only make the opening night roster, but to try and move up with that group of forwards with the injuries to Quine and Prince
N: Yes, I agree. With the way those guys played last year, you can really see the hockey IQ they have. They really played well together as well and would like to see them get a chance with maybe Barzal centering them?
CK: Yup I think that’s the big wild card Nick, Matthew Barzal. He played so good in juniors a year ago and started the year with the Islanders got his feet wet and absolutely tore it up in juniors and proved he belonged. I think that’s something a lot of people forget when the Isles dealt Strome to Edmonton for Eberle it opened a center spot. You look down the middle with JT, Brock, Cizikas cemented into that 4th line center role, there’s an opening 3rd line center role for Barzal. I think he will make the team and have a terrific rookie season for the Islanders.
N: Speaking of rookies, without Travis Hamonic, what kind of impact do you expect Ryan Pulock to have?
CK: There’s so many young defensemen now. You have your veterans with Boychuk, Leddy, deHaan, Seidenberg and Hickey and there are your 5 spots locked up. When you’re talking about Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and even Devon Toews who had an unbelievable year in Bridgeport. For me if you’re going to open the season with 7 defensemen and you got the 5 veterans locked up and 4 defensemen fighting for two spots but I think it’s time for Ryan Pulock to step up as well. He’s coming off a great year in Bridgeport, they really want someone to quarterback that powerplay and he has the 105-mph slap shot so he could certainly step right in; but those are 4 solid defenseman that are going to be battling for two spots and it’s going to be interesting to see which two make it on opening night.
N: Yes, it’s going to be very interesting. You can see with the current roster there are a lot of one-way contracts and now with the injuries to quine and prince, there is still a logjam that could affect guys like Anthony Beauvillier. Who do you think will be the odd man out? Is it going to be a guy like Beauvillier or maybe someone like Kulemin?
CK: It’s interesting here are my top 4 lines going into this year. Here is what I look at as the top four lines. Tavares between Lee and Eberle, which is almost a lock for the first line. Nelson between Ladd and Bailey. The way Ladd finished and the way Bailey produced all year, you have to put Brock at least to start at second line center so there is a pretty good top 6. You open the third line center spot which I think Barzal can take, Chimera on his left coming off a 20-goal season and Ho-Sang on his right ,that’s a pretty good line. Then I don’t think you want to mess with the chemistry of the 4th line which was Cizikas centering Clutterbuck and Kulemin. If you look at those 12 guys, I think that’s the top 12 with Beauvillier being the 13th forward trying to crack the lineup and Michael Dal Colle as the 14th forward. With injuries to quine and prince, I see Beauvillier and Dal Colle trying to crack the top 12 but boy is that top 12 very solid.
N: Yes, we should expect a lot of point production from these guys. What kind of season are you expecting from Jordan Eberle?
CK: I think he’s going to be terrific. You look what he’s done in Edmonton. He’s had a 34-goal season, and 4 straight 20 or more goal seasons and now you put him with Lee and JT, who have great chemistry. I think he is going to help most on the Power Play. The Islanders were really in need of a right handed forward on the Power Play. They really didn’t have anyone last year and now you have Eberle, barzal, and ho-sang as right-handed shots. But Eberle, if you look at the numbers he put up with Tavares when they were playing together at the world juniors, I think they combined for 29 points in 6 games which is crazy. JT had 15 points and Eberle had 13. I just completed an interview with Jordan Eberle and he said they never played at even strength. I really think on the Power Play you will see Eberle’s game elevate to a new level with JT working the half wall and Lee in front of the net.
N: You talk about the 09 World Juniors. I still remember to this day, Tavares throwing the puck in front and Eberle putting that puck in against Russia to tie the game. It seems like he has that clutch factor like Johnny, which is very admirable.
CK: Yes, I’ve seen that goal so many times it’s incredible. But yes, exactly what you were talking about JT on the half wall and Eberle in front but now that will be Anders Lee in front. Just the fact you throw that right-handed shot changes the look of everything. Doug Weight has a lot of weapons up front including a nice balance of righties and lefties which he didn’t have last season.
N: Speaking of JT, the dreaded question, what are your feelings on the JT contract situation going into the season?
CK: Yes, you hope it doesn’t drag out too long. He has said all the right things since day one and he’s never given any indication he wants to be anywhere else. He also said that this is the biggest decision of his life and he is certainly going to get an 8-year contract somewhere so it’s going to determine where he is going to be for the next 8 years. I think he wants just a little more certainty, he wants some certainty in where the team is going and I think Garth Snow has shown that with the moves he’s made in the offseason, but I also think he wants some certainty in the building situation. Unfortunately, that’s the one that may take a while before we find out with the Islanders what’s going to happen at Belmont if they win the bid. It’s to me 3,4,5 years from playing there. Where will the Islanders be playing in the interim? Do the Islanders decide to end their lease at Barclays after this season? Does Barclays decide to end it after next season? Is the coliseum in the mix as a temporary home? Is another building in the mix for a temporary home? Obviously, the Islanders owners are working with a group that’s led by Madison Square Garden folks and NY Mets folks as well, so dare I say it the Garden could be in the mix as a temporary home. There are just so many questions and I think JT would just like to know a little more about where he will be playing. Nobody knows how long the Belmont folks are going to take to review the bids, which I believe the bidding ends September 28th so that’s at least when everything has to be in but they have not said how long the process is going to be to examine all the bids they receive and then to finally announce who the winning bidder is.
Part Two Coming tomorrow.