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Monday’s Practice a Potential Preview of Opening Night Roster

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New York Islanders

For the New York Islanders and the rest of the NHL, 5 PM on Monday marks the deadline for teams to submit their final rosters before the start of the NHL season. Although we do not know yet who has made the final spots for the Islanders, especially with a few players on the shelf, Monday’s practice gave us a big hint of what we could see come Thursday.

There were only a few spots up for grabs through training camp, as the top six were set in stone, along with the top-four defensive pairings.

The main questions were who would flank Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the third line and who would win the sixth and seventh defensive jobs. Despite what people may think, Josh Bailey’s job never seemed up for grabs, and he had a strong preseason, leading the Islanders with five points.

Starting with the defensemen, Robin Salo locked up the sixth spot alongside Scott Mayfield rather quickly, as he was the only player given a chance with no. 24. He took that chance and ran–skated–with it.

“I’ve done my best,” Salo shared Saturday night. “I tried to play my own game, you know, help the team in that kind of way so, so I can just play my game. Do my best out there.”

Scott Mayfield has not skated since Oct. 2, and his status remains “unavailable.” It’s a very high possibility that Mayfield starts the season on IR, which means someone else will need to slot in on defense alongside Salo.

Sebastian Aho played one of his best games as a New York Islander on Saturday night, in the Islanders’ 4-1 preseason finale win over the New York Rangers. But at practice on Monday, Grant Hutton skated alongside Salo.

Grant Hutton, Paul LaDue, and Otto Koivula were placed on waivers on Sunday, but you are allowed to practice until you officially clear, 24 hours later. 

For the forward group, Kieffer Bellows has been a staple alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey throughout training camp. Even though Wahlstrom missed time, finally joining the group on Monday after just skating on his own, Bellows has earned the spot through his play.

“I feel really confident, really good about my game the whole entire preseason,” Bellows told NYI Hockey Now Saturday night. “I felt like I went out there and showed the real me.”

“I want to be that power forward, that’s physical, shooting the puck, you know, just hard to play against, and I felt, you know, as the preseason went on, I just got better and better.”

Oliver Wahlstrom spoke following practice and said that he is working his way back from an upper-body injury and hopes to be ready by opening night. Head coach Lane Lambert shared that if Wahlstrom was ready, it was not a guarantee he would be in the lineup.

“That would just mean we have a decision to make.”

As for Kieffer Bellows, Lambert has liked what he has seen.

“We’ve asked him to move his feet, and we’ve asked him to be physical,” Lambert stated following Monday’s skate. “I think he’s done all of those things. So he’s done a good job from that standpoint.”

Nikita Soshnikov, the 28-year-old Russian forward who was signed right before the start of training camp, deserves a spot as well, given the skillset he brings. With Cal Clutterbuck missing since Oct. 2, the question became who would slot in on the fourth line. Ross Johnston has looked strong, and even Bellows has brought that physical presence.

“I feel more up to speed, actually. So I can say I adapted, Soshnikov told NYI Hockey Now Monday. As for how he played during camp and preseason, his first taste of NHL action since going back to the KHL in 2019, he was confident in what he showed.

“I think I played well, and that’s what the coaching staff told me too. So whatever I could do, you know, that depends on me. I did it, so now it’s just up to the coaches, up to management.”

On Monday, Soshnikov skated with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, and fit in rather nicely.

“With Marty, we played one year together (TOR), so I know what kind of player he is, and he knows what kind of player I am,” Soshnikov told NYI Hockey Now Monday. “I think anyone can play with Zeeker. He works hard and [is a] good faceoff guy…it’s easy to play with them for sure. Great people.”

Soshnikov is a tenacious forechecker, using his speed to pressure the opposing puck carriers, and has a knack for killing penalties. His speed also allows him to transition up the ice quickly.

Lambert added after practice that Soshnikov brings a certain energy to that fourth line, and Martin shared that Soshnikov is learning the system and has played well.

Shortly after 5 PM on Monday, we will know who the New York Islanders are keeping on their roster and which players are heading onto IR. New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will speak with us following the roster deadline to discuss his decisions.

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