ELMONT, NY–When we spoke with New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello at the organization’s golf outing in September, he spoke on the prospects in the organization and why there’s no rush on their development.
“I’d rather have them come up too late when it comes to young players rather than too soon,” Lamoriello said.
The New York Islanders had not had to dip into the Bridgeport Islanders pool through the first month and a half of the 2022-23 NHL season, but with a few injuries to the forward group over the last two weeks, Lamoriello has had to make call-up decisions.
The first call-up came the morning of Nov. 23, as Simon Holmstrom was recalled to fill in for Kyle Palmieri who is currently on IR with an upper-body injury. Despite being just 21 years old, Holmstrom was in the midst of his fourth season with the Bridgeport Islanders, with 153 career AHL games under his belt.
“He’s played extremely well,” Lamoriello said. “We feel he’s ready to take that next step. And the question is…certainly in his hands when given the opportunity on a regular basis, and that’s the only way we’re going to find out [if he’s ready],” Lamoriello said Thursday morning.
His son and Bridgeport Islanders general manager Chris Lamoriello told NYI Hockey Now that he saw last season that Holmstrom was ready to take that next step. It was just about the right time, and with the Islanders in need of a winger, Holmstrom got the call.
“I think last year when Bridgeport really started to collect its roster and have some stability, I think all the players were in a position to start to grow, and Simon’s second half of the season was very strong,” Lamoriello said. “He got very comfortable in the role. Brent Thompson has done a great job with him. He’s been used on the penalty kill, on the power play, and he’s been able to see some different positioning.”
“He settled in on the wing right now, particularly on the left side, and I think he carried that through the playoffs.”
Holmstrom has not provided offense, but he has given head coach Lane Lambert responsible play in all three zones and has shown the ability to be smart with his stick and help move the puck up the ice in transition.
When two new injuries arose on Tuesday in Philadelphia, Lamoriello again had to go to the Bridgeport well for two more wingers calling up Hudson Fasching and Cole Bardreau. That, positionally, ruled out October’s AHL Player of the Month in Ruslan Iskhakov and top prospect Aatu Räty, two centermen.
Although the positional lock was not something that came up whenever Iskahkov’s name was mentioned, Lamoriello and Lambert have made it abundantly clear that Räty is a center. The Islanders need a skilled forward right now, which Räty is, and if the Islanders felt that they were in a desperate situation, Räty may have been given a chance.
Lambert would have had to make adjustments, either moving Pageau to the wing (while still having him take face-offs) or Räty.
Per Chris Lamoriello, Räty is dealing with a non-COVID-related illness, which kept him out of Bridgeport’s lineup Wednesday night, which likely also played a part in why he was not chosen to come up. But the belief is tha he would not have been the option from Lamoriello if he was indeed healthy.
But Räty is in his first full season in the AHL, in North America. The points have not been there, with four goals and four assists in 18 games, and he is continuing to learn the game. If the Islanders needed a centerman, then calling him up would have made more sense.
Hudson Fasching, a 29-year-old winger, has played 38 NHL games, split between the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes. Despite not providing much offense at the NHL level, the former fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings has seven goals and four assists in 18 games with Bridgeport.
“think kind of a power forward game, pretty simple, north-south,” Fasching said. “Trying to make sure my details are dialed in and try to create some havoc in the offensive zone…heavy forecheck.”
“Make sure my defense is really dialed in and disrupt a little bit, [and] get some good hits in there.”
Cole Bardreau, a center by trade but a player that can play the wing, was the other call-up by Lamoriello. The 29-year-old, former Cornell Big Red, played 10 NHL games for the New York Islanders in 2019-20 and has five goals and four assists in 19 games with Bridgeport. His game reminds you of a Casey Cizikas and Zach Parise in terms of work ethic.
“I’m a simple forward that brings energy. I’m not going to be dangling out there or anything like that,” Bardreau said. “[I] just keep it simple, get the puck deep.”
Winger William Dufour, a goal-scoring wizard in his last season in the QMJHL, who has continued his scoring ways in his first AHL season, has seven goals and four assists in 18 games, but Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson has him playing a fourth-line role.
During our chat with his fourth-line linemate Cole Bardreau, Dufour has fit in quite nicely.
“I know he’s not used to playing in that type of role, and coming from the QMJHL where he put up a treasure chest full of points, but man, he’s fitting in nicely there,” Bardreau said. “I mean, I really think that if you can kind of learn to play that simple game too, that’s going to get him up here even faster.”
Dufour has a lot to learn and has taken strides, but he is not an NHL-ready player.
The New York Islanders are currently 15-9-0 and in third place in the Metropolitan Division. Despite the mindset of a good portion of the fan base, the Islanders are not in immediate danger right now, and that’s why there is no need at this moment in time for Lamoriello to call upon prospects who are just getting their feet wet in the organization.