It’s been just over a week now since the New York Islanders opened their training camp on Long Island. While there may not have been as many intriguing storylines to start things off, plenty have developed since then.
The Islanders roster appeared to be set going into this year, but injuries and some strong play by a few young players has raised enough eyebrows that there may still be some surprises in the works. After a week here are a few things we’ve learned from training camp.
Robin Salo is Pushing for a Roster Spot
The young defenseman may not make the New York Islanders roster, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. The prospect has caught the attention of just about everyone who has watched him during camp or in the Islanders’ first two preseason games.
Salo has shown he can play confidently through his first two preseason opportunities. He played in 19:10 of Sunday’s win over the New York Rangers and 18:11 in the Islanders overtime win in Philadelphia.
Starting his first season in North America, Salo has shown he can play physically and skate well. The 22-year-old spent last season in the Swedish Hockey League and was expected to go to Bridgeport this season to play.
“Robin has really done a good job,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think the first thing that stands out is how poised he is with the puck. He’s got a lot of deception to his game. He makes good decisions. He’s handled the first couple games and scrimmages here quite well.”
The Islanders head coach did note a moment during Thursday’s scrimmage when Salo got run over a bit by Kieffer Bellows while trying to make a play. It was, as Trotz indicated, a learning moment for the defenseman.
The Islanders will play their third preseason game of the year on Saturday and it appears Trotz plans on getting Salo in some more action as the opposing lineups begin to include more NHL talent.
“Robin has earned the right to be in some more games here,” Trotz said.
Still Waiting to See Semyon Varlamov
Now over a week into training camp, Semyon Varlamov still hasn’t skated with the team. The goaltender was a big part of the New York Islanders success last season and played strong enough to earn his way into the Vezina conversation.
So far this season Varlamov has spent the start of camp recovering from an injury. Trotz characterized it as “soreness” at the start of camp and since then as well.
“Varly is continuing his rehab to this point. There’s not really any substantial update I can give you on that,” Trotz said.
Earlier this week, NYI Hockey Now’s Stefen Rosner highlighted the rising chance that Ilya Sorokin may start the year because of Varlamov’s status. While the young netminder had a good rookie season, the Islanders starting the season without Varlamov is not ideal.
Roster Battle Upfront
The New York Islanders added depth upfront has caused quite the battle to be the team’s extra forward. Richard Panik, Kieffer Bellows, Leo Komarov, Ross Johnston and Cole Bardreau are just a few of the names battling to remain with the big club this season.
There will be plenty of factors that go into who stays and who goes to Bridgeport to start the year. Part of that will be who needs to clear waivers to even be sent down there in the first place. Trotz also prefers a player that can be a bit of a utility man and play in different parts of the lineup with ease.
Panik appears to be positioning himself well in that regard having practiced with the fourth line and playing in a top-9 role in the team’s first preseason game. Trotz has described Panik as someone who can play with an edge and drive opposing players crazy.
Johnston put up a good performance alongside the fourth-liners in the preseason as well, but his style is a bit more limited. The logjam is a good problem to have, but also forces the coaching staff to make some tough decisions.
“Obviously we have a deep team and that’s the reason why this team has been to two conference finals in the past two years,” Bellows said. “Coming into camp I just wanted to work hard, prove myself, show my abilities and just show the steps that I’ve taken to become hopefully an everyday NHLer.”
Chara, Parise Fitting in Well
The two newest members of the organization have lived up to the billing that they came to camp on. The two have pushed the team on the ice and served the mentor role well for the younger guys in camp.
Parise has certainly been skating like someone with a lot to prove after he was bought out of his $98 million contract in Minnesota over the summer. And Chara’s hulking presence has been felt on the ice at Northwell Health Ice Center.
“You talk about professionalism, you talk about a good example,” Trotz said. “If you want to have a winning culture, that Zach Parise mindset, how he goes through every drill at a high level. A guy like Zach and a guy like Big Z, those guys are invaluable for us, not only for this year, not only for our team… but for years to come.”
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