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New York Islanders

Ruslan Iskhakov Makes Strong First Impression In NHL Debut



AP Photo/Seth Wenig

There had been a buzz around Ruslan Iskhakov all season.

Leading the Bridgeport Islanders with 50 points, it seemed only a matter of time before Iskhakov received his first NHL call-up to the New York Islanders.

On more than one occasion, his quick feet and silky hands made for highlight-reel shootout goals that lit up social media feeds, which only led to more intrigue. But with the Islanders in a heated playoff race for much of the season, the timing never fell in Iskhakov’s favor.

That was until Wednesday at UBS Arena, when fans no longer had to watch Iskhakov on their phones. Instead, they got to witness him live as he made his NHL debut, helping the Islanders close out their regular season with a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“That was a great experience,” Iskhakov told reporters in Elmont. “I’m glad we won. I’m pretty sure that’ll give some boost to the guys for their first game in [the playoffs]. For me, it was a great experience.”

With the Islanders having already clinched their spot in the playoffs, they rested several key starters against Pittsburgh, making it the right time to call up Ishkakov. He began the day in Bridgeport and received official word he’d be debuting just before starting practice.

“I thought he was great,” Kyle Palmieri told reporters in Elmont. “We saw him over the summer and in training camp, even in highlights on Instagram and stuff like that, so we knew the kind of skill he has. But I thought he made a lot of great little plays. He won a lot of battles. It’s tough because he’s not the biggest guy, but you could tell he was excited to get a crack at it.”

At five-foot-eight and 170 pounds, Iskhakov’s size has been a point of criticism throughout his career, but his dynamic skill has always overshadowed it, leading the Islanders to select him in the second round of the 2018 draft.

Iskhakov was knocked down to the ice more than once on Wednesday. But just as he always has, he used his ability to make an impact during his first NHL game.

“He’s got great energy, and he competes,” said Islanders head coach Patrick Roy to reporters. “He’s small, but I don’t know if he knows he’s small with the way he’s been playing.”

Ishkakov skated on the wing of Jean-Gabriel Pageau during his debut and was a fixture on the man-advantage. It was there that he made his biggest impact on the game, registering a secondary assist on Samuel Bolduc’s power-play goal at 1:36 of the third period, which at the time gave the Islanders a 4-3 lead.

“I think he sees the game well,” Brock Nelson told reporters in Elmont. “To see him come up and play his first game, I’m sure he’s excited. Everybody remembers that moment. It’s a big night, and for him to get on the score sheet, too, is an added bonus.”

It’s unclear what’s immediately next for Iskhakov. The Bridgeport Islanders only have two games remaining on their schedule and won’t be making the playoffs.

However, with the Islanders about to begin their postseason, there is room to keep Iskhakov on the roster in New York.

After his performance in his NHL debut, it’s certainly possible.

“I had fun watching him play,” said Roy. “The plan was to give him some ice time, give him a chance to play and see what he could do. I was very happy with what I saw.”