The New York Islanders hit the ice for the first day of training camp Thursday morning as they look to march back to the Stanley Cup Semifinals and eventually the Stanley Cup Final.
Most of the roster from last season is returning for this season and there are a few new faces sprinkled in. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello indicated that there wouldn’t be too many surprises come opening night next month as far as the roster goes.
Still, there are a few players to keep an eye on with several returning from injury or surgery and two veteran additions that could have major impacts on the Islanders this season. Here are five players to watch as training camp opens up.
The New York Islanders captain will return after missing most of last season and all of the playoffs due to an ACL injury he had to have surgery on early in the year. Lee appeared in 27 games before the injury and had 12 goals and 19 points.
Lee did begin skating during the Islanders playoff run and was present around the club as they made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Lee’s presence even sparked speculation that he would rejoin the Islanders’ lineup early. That obviously never happened and now Lee will be back with the team as they prepare for a new season.
Lee will see some changes now that he’s back. Jordan Eberle won’t be alongside him on the wing. Likely joining him this year will be Kyle Palmieri. Camp will be a first look at how the two will gel together and how comfortable Lee is after such a taxing injury.
The rookie made waves last season with his skill and sniper-esq shot. It took some time, but Wahlstrom eventually did find a home on the Islanders’ third line and finished the regular season with 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 44 games.
Wahlstrom was even off to a hot start in the playoffs putting up three points (a goal, two assists) in the first round, but an injury in Game 5 ended his season early. Wahlstrom was eventually healthy enough to play in the later rounds, but he was relegated to the press box as New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz opted to stick with a more veteran ladened lineup.
Now heading into his second full NHL season, Wahlstrom is expected to see an increased role with the team. Though there is some chatter he could be a candidate to get a chance on the first line, he will likely see himself start out on the third line again with Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
It may have taken nearly two decades to right one of the many historical wrongs under Mike Milbury, Zach Parise is part of the New York Islanders. He’s joining the team after a rough season in Minnesota and an offseason when they bought him out of his 13-year, $98 million contract.
Parise will have something to prove when he takes the ice in orange and blue this season. The veteran forward is expected to play on the Islanders’ third line alongside Pageau and Wahlstrom. The trio could prove to be quite effective and lethal if the three can find chemistry this season.
At 44-years-old does Big Z still have it in him to play the minutes the Islanders will need? That’s a fair question at this point, but after averaging over 18 minutes last season it’s hard to say that Chara still won’t be a big contributor for the Islanders.
One thing everyone will be watching for during camp is who Chara is paired up with. Chara is likely going to play alongside Noah Dobson or Scott Mayfield.
The hulking defenseman can contribute on the Islanders penalty kill and his slap shot still sends fear down the spines of anyone who has to jump in front of it. Training camp will be the first indication of how much Chara has left in the tank for his comeback to Long Island.
The left-handed defenseman will be on Long Island on a PTO, but there is a decent chance he sticks around for a bit longer with the New York Islanders. At 29 and two years removed from a 60 point season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Gustafsson still has some value to the Islanders as a depth defenseman who can alternate with Chara and/or Greene when needed.
Issues with his play in his own end have followed Gustafsson in the past, but under a Barry Trotz-led team that could change. Will he leave enough of an impression in camp to stick around?
That will be the big question for the defenseman to answer.