TORONTO — The New York Islanders are struggling. They have now dropped into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, three points out of the second wild-card spot. They have lost four straight and 2-6-3 this month.
But if there’s one positive that can be taken during the struggles and the injuries, it’s the fact that New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has gone to the prospect well.
This season we have seen four players make their NHL debut, all four drafted by the Islanders. We have seen one free agent, a “minor leaguer,” in 27-year-old Hudson Fasching, get a chance and take complete advantage of it, while another in defenseman Dennis Cholowski has played a few games over the last week.
And it appears we are about to see the Islanders’ top defensive prospect take the ice later this morning and potentially play in his first NHL game as 22-year-old Samuel Bolduc has been recalled.
Let’s dive into the players who have made their NHL debuts:
Originally recalled following Kyle Palmieri’s first injury, 21-year-old Simon Holmstrom quickly showed off his defensive game. He was winning board battles, making quick passes to help in transition, and, more importantly, was making intelligent plays.
The 21-year-old first-round pick had one goal through his first 14 NHL games before falling victim to a lower-body injury that forced him out of the lineup for eight games. Upon returning, he wasn’t winning board battles and wasn’t creating enough offense, as Lambert kept him out of the lineup after four games back.
Saturday, his second game back in the lineup, Holmstrom scored a highlight-reel goal against the Carolina Hurricanes and went hard into corners. He’s the longest-tenured prospect, and if he can find more of a consistent offensive touch, he has the chance to be part of the Islanders’ future, likely a third-line shutdown winger.
“He sees the ice so well, and he’s got the skill to open the ice up with it,” Islanders captain Anders Lee told NYI Hockey Now. “I think his game was extremely well rounded, especially for his age, and his defensive play and headiness is, I think, what carries him through a lot.”
The 20-year-old Aatu Räty, originally called up when Casey Cizikas missed a game with a minor injury, played seven games with the Islanders from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, scoring two goals over that span and showcasing strong positional play.
After being sent down following the Islanders’ road trip out West to kick off the new year, Räty was back up Saturday and centered the fourth line against the Hurricanes, playing 8:50 with two hits, winning three of five face-offs.
What stands out about his game is how wise he is beyond his years–in all areas.
“Just that he plays a good 200-foot game,” Lane Lambert said. “He’s on pucks, and he’s thinking about both sides of the game and is responsible defensively.”
Despite being used in a fourth-line role, the 2020 second-round pick is a top-six player. He could very well take over as the Islanders, no. two center at some point in the near future.
The 2020 fifth-round pick played just 6:48 minutes, as he was on the ice for the first two goals against–with a few mistakes–and then sat and watched the final 29 minutes of the game of a 4-1 loss.
“I liked his first period. I like some of the things he did. He’s a big body. He went to the net hard, and he’ll continue to learn and grow from that,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “And that’s what that’s about from that standpoint.”
“He’ll be fine.”
What we saw was a raw player, one who wasn’t NHL-ready. Despite having an elite shot, his skating needs work, and he’s still getting adjusted to professional life after dominating in juniors.
Despite a tough debut, his confidence is fine as he returned to Bridgeport and scored the overtime winner in his return.
He’s likely a bottom-six physical forward that brings offense with that elite shot.
With Robin Salo struggling when given the opportunity this season, the New York Islanders awarded 25-year-old Parker Wotherspoon a chance to help stabilize the backend in Adam Pelech’s absence.
Wotherspoon had played roughly 300 AHL games, all with Bridgeport, and since being recalled on Dec. 23, the same day as Räty, the British Columbia native has played in 12 of the Islanders last 14 games.
“I mean, I put a lot of hours into this sport, and it took a long time, but it almost made it a little sweeter that I put my time in, and I’m just happy worked out for sure,” Wotherspoon told NYI Hockey Now.
Over that span, Wotherspoon has played responsible defensively, but has been one dimensional with no points and just 10 shots on goal. For a team that is outscored on a nightly basis, Wotherspoon is a plus-five and has averaged 13:20 minutes per night.
He keeps things simple, which is precisely what the Islanders wanted from him. He’s a viable seventh defenseman when Pelech returns.