Neither Oliver Wahlstrom nor Kieffer Bellows was on the New York Islanders roster as the team hopped on their flight to Toronto ahead of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. In fact, the most notable youngster that will be with the Islanders while they’re in their hub city won’t even be able to suit up in a game.
By that, I obviously am referring to goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin, who will join the Islanders at some point in the Toronto bubble after signing his entry-level deal in July.
Along with Bellows and Wahlstrom, defenseman Grant Hutton and goalie Jakub Skarek also go cut. The four did not skate with the team during Saturday’s practice in East Meadow and general manager Lou Lamoriello all but indicated that those four weren’t going to make the trip.
As for the group that did, there weren’t many surprises. All week during camp Lou Lamoriello and Islanders head coach Barry Trotz seemed to have an idea of who was going to make the trip.
Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Derick Brassard, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Kuhnhackl, Andrew Ladd, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were all locks to go. The Lee-Barzal-Eberle trio had an especially strong camp during the past two weeks.
It would be hard to imagine Michael Dal Colle and Leo Komarov weren’t brought along for depth and experience. Ross Johnston has been a Barry Trotz favorite as well for quite some time and the Islander bench boss has never missed a chance to throw some praise the way of the 26-year-old forward.
Otto Koivula has played well in the 12 NHL games he got into this season and fits the style that Trotz employs with the Islanders.
Looking at the lineup, it was going to be hard for Bellows or Wahlstrom to find somewhere to jump in, and as camp went on it, became clearer that the only real open spot in the lineup was on the wing of Pageau and Brassard, and Kuhnhackl appears to have taken that spot (for now).
“We put all the factors in,” Trotz told reporters on Zoom call on Saturday before the team left for Toronto. “Position, experience, all that and we felt that this would be the strongest roster to give us all the flexibility.”
Defensively there is plenty of flexibility as well. With 10 defensemen making the trip, there’s plenty of depth on the blue line to fill in the gaps should the Islanders need to. Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews have been the mainstays all season.
Noah Dobson, Andy Greene, Thomas Hickey and Sebastian Aho all give the Islanders a solid core to fall back. Dobson and Greene likely will be the first two called upon if someone was “unfit to play,” especially since both were used to fill in while the Islanders were without Adam Pelech.
Hickey is a solid player who can play responsibly at both ends of the ice, is a quality locker room guy and he has the experience Trotz values.
“You can never have enough (defensemen). I think that’s an area that we’re deep,” Trotz said.