This is usually the time of year when I not only look at this Islanders team as a whole, I look and try to figure out what direction or philosophy the Islanders will be taking this upcoming year. I begin to just look at the overall roster and possibly look for any moves that still need to be made before training camp, but to my delight, there really isn’t a move for Islanders General Manager to make at this point. Yes, I have read all over the place that fans would like to see the Islanders make a trade for that illustrious top four defenceman which would complete their summer, but I don’t think the Isles need to do that now. Before I get to the defense, let me quickly talk about the prospects camp.
There’s only two things I took out of the prospects camp: First, Villa Pokka will probably play another season in Finland if (more likely when) he doesn’t make the NHL team. Part of me really wanted to see him in Bridgeport this year, but the Finnish League he’s playing in will continue to improve his development.
The second is the fact Griffin Reinhart is ready for the NHL. He was a man amongst boys and he set an example to many, both on and off the ice.
That’s it. I’m not worried about Michael Dal Colle or Josh Ho-Sang. Why? Because they were not making this team out of camp. They played like they did in their Junior League and like everyone else, they need to get bigger and stronger and just mature. They’ll go back to junior and will grow as both players and men. Let’s talk about them after their seasons are over.
I’m going into this camp from a different mindset. The mindset is this: Not only is this team no longer rebuilding, but has a legitimate shot to go deep into the playoffs. This organization could not be in a better spot. Most of these players now know what the playoff atmosphere is all about, they know what it takes. There is also depth in Bridgeport that has some NHL experience to the point that if any of the players are called up, they will not look out of place. The goalie position has been revamped to the point that the Isles will come out with a better record in one-goal games. This is what I see in mid-July and training camp hasn’t started.
Now, let me go on record by saying that I don’t think the Islanders will be making a trade unless they have to. It’s July, I could be wrong, but why ruin the competition theme so early. So what’s my thinking for training camp? I think the Islanders will do what Detroit, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Chicago and the many other teams have done: Play the best players available and send the promising prospects down and continue their development. That means Ryan Strome and Anders Lee will be sent down to at least start the season. Make no mistake, I believe the Islanders coaching staff when they say that everyone must compete for a job, but I do think that they do have 95% of their roster already set. The Isles will go through the motions and all the right words will be said, but in the end, maybe with one exception, you could see the more experienced players on this team first before the prospects that are already penciled in to the Opening Night roster by Isles fans.
So in training camp, let’s take a future look at the competition:
Corey Conacher Vs. Anders Lee Vs. Colin McDonald: Three players, one spot. Corey Conacher on a line with Michael Grabner & Frans Nielsen would a fun one to watch. I believe it’s his to lose.
Josh Bailey Vs. Ryan Strome: With zero injuries currently on this team, there isn’t a center position available, so it’s right wing or Bridgeport for Strome. My thoughts are that Bailey gets a chance to prove he belongs and will be given the beginning of the season to showcase. If he prevails, then Strome will be leading the Sound Tigers into a deep playoff run.
Matt Donovan Vs. TJ Brennan: I say this is a battle for the third pairing position. The winner will be paired with the winner of the next battle. I give the edge to TJ Brennan. Brennan, from what I could gather, has proven to play at every level but the NHL, who just needs a place to play and at this point of his career must have the camp of his life. As for Matt Donovan, I don’t think the Isles will just put him on waivers as he’ll split games with Matt Carkner as the 7th defenseman, but I do think the Isles will roll with 8 defenseman to start the season due to injury concerns of other players.
Brian Strait Vs. Griffin Reinhart: This was the one exception I was commenting on earlier. I think Reinhart will make team out of camp and Brian Strait could be demoted. Reinhart has done everything the Isles have asked him to do and now it’s time for him to be rewarded. I think the pairing of Reinhart and Brennan to start the season will be intriguing to say the least. Brennan is the possible NHL version to Ryan Pulock in terms of the offensive defensemen’s style so when Pulock does come up, Reinhart will be able to help out his future partners positioning. I do believe that as this season progresses, you’ll see Reinhart’s minutes go up. In the end, the Isles need for a top four defenceman may already be here.
So in the end, here is what I’m thinking of the lineup in Mid-July
Strait, McDonald, Lee and Strome would be demoted. Strait and McDonald would be exposed to the waiver wire. Could one or both be taken? Sure. Could both be on Bridgeport? Sure. Could fans then see a possible trade? Absolutely. Could injuries happen during camp and they stay? You bet. Could they be replaced by someone in Bridgeport? No question. My point is this: this years training camp will be the “last chance” camp for a few players, not Strome or Lee. Players like Brennan and Conacher have proven everything they can at the lower levels, but need to show the big club what they can do. There is no development time for them. As for Strait & McDonald? They’ve been given their chances. They’re the older versions to Brennan and Conacher.
To me, sending Strome and Lee down to Bridgeport is similar to sending Reinhart back to Juniors last year. That benefited him greatly and the Islanders as Reinhart and his teammates went on to win the Memorial Cup. Are Strome and Lee good enough to make it on this years Islanders team? I think so, but with the additions the Sound Tigers have made to go along with an up and coming defense; with solid goaltending and a coach who already knows how to get Bridgeport into the playoffs, you now have a learning experience that, at least for one year, will not only benefit themselves, their teammates, but the Sound Tigers and Islanders as well for many years to come. While they’re at it, bring in dal Colle and Ho-Sang back after their junior seasons are over and let them witness what they will be doing in the not so distant future and only give them more drive and determination to excel at the high levels.
Now, this is July. I could be way off. For all I know Conacher doesn’t pan out or Brennan becomes a bust. I could be wrong about all of this, but I think the Islanders really want to repeat the experience factor and what it did for Reinhart. Sending both Lee an Strome down may be more of a benefit for everyone long term. Could they still do that on Long Island? Yes, but for this coming year they’d have bigger roles, more responsibility and may have a better chance at winning the Calder Cup in the AHL then they would the Stanley Cup in the NHL. The further they go, the better Bridgeport gets and the better the New York Islanders will be. Fans will say development issues are what plagued Bailey, Donovan and even Nino Niederreitter, but if fans are that concerned with the development of their future star players, then sending Strome and Lee down is the proper choice for this coming year…again it’s July, so it’s time to discuss.