Throughout this year’s Islanders training camp the players have been split in two groups, A and B. Group A featured all the NHL regulars, while group B featured all the up and coming prospects, including Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Johan Sundstrom, and Griffin Reinhart. Yesterday, however, changes were made and the aforementioned prospects were moved into the majors group.
With Cal Clutterbuck out for 4-6 weeks with a skate laceration to his higher leg area, Strome, Nelson and Sundstrom will be battling to replace the hole he leaves on the third line. With Sundstrom being the obvious long shot, and Strome still adjusting to playing, Brock Nelson is the obvious favorite to be filling that role on opening night. With experience in playing left wing while playing in college, and a very physical style of play, Nelson should be the one filling in for Clutterbuck during his injury, while Strome will most likely start the year in Bridgeport awaiting for a chance that is certain to come.
The players in the groups weren’t the only change made yesterday, as the addition of the new players led to the changing of lines. With Pierre-Marc Bouchard having been demoted to the third line during the Islanders’ last preseason game against Nashville, Josh Bailey was promoted to the first line with the new captain John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Michael Grabner was promoted from the third line to the second line to replace Grabner. Anyone surprised at Bailey’s promotion shouldn’t be, with experience in playing on Tavares’ wing during the playoffs and a playmaking ability unlike any other winger on the Islanders’ roster he was, in my opinion, the best fit to fill that first line hole from day one.
With Mark Streit’s departure there’s been a hole on the Islanders’ defense that needs filling, and Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart are the only candidates left. Reinhart has been surprising coaches throughout camp and it’s not surprising that he’s in line to make his NHL debut come next Friday. At this point the most likely way to go from here is for the coaching staff to give Reinhart his 9 games to see how he handles NHL forwards, and if he proves less than capable Matt Donovan will be there to fill in the rest of the way. On a side note, the pairing of MacDonald and Hamonic made a return in camp yesterday, putting an end to the experiment that was the Hamonic-Strait pairing.
The last big change to take place was the moving of goaltender Anders Nilsson from group A to group B, setting the stage for Kevin Poulin to take the reigns as the backup to Evgeni Nabokov for the 13-14 season. At the end of the day, this was the best decision for all involved. Poulin is past the point of playing in the AHL, he’s gaining comfort in an NHL crease and should only get better with every game he plays. Nilsson on the other hand, who missed the large majority of last season with an infection to gluten that affected just about every part of his body. An entire season as an AHL starter, playing 50-60 games optimally, will be what’s best for him and his development into a full-time NHL starter at some point in the not too distant future.
As of right now I believe the Islanders’ opening night roster should look something like this:
Scratches: Matt Donovan, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton