October 11, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; New York Islanders right wing Joshua Ho-Sang (66) moves the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


Graziano: Islanders Rookies Look To Force Way Onto Roster

Andy Graziano
September 19, 2018 - 11:53 am

If you’re Kieffer Bellows, Joshua Ho-Sang or Michael Dal Colle, you enter training camp to prepare for the 2018-19 season with one thing on your mind -- breaking camp on the 23-man roster that will be announced on Tuesday, October 2 by 5 pm ET.

Now, of course, that applies to every other youngster as well that makes up the 68-man roster that will be significantly pared down by the time we get to this point next week. It’s no different for Scott Eansor, Ryan Hitchcock, Blade Jenkins, Yanick Turcotte, etc.. Although, in honesty and fairness, they are not seen as ‘blue-chip’ prospects expected to be playing in the NHL anytime soon.

The issue is, due to some decisions made by president and general manager Lou Lamoriello this summer, spots don’t seem to be waiting for this crop of talented Islanders forwards. Dal Colle is still a work in progress, especially when it comes to his skating and Ho-Sang, seemingly with a ‘fresh start’, has already missed a practice for a ‘personal day’ and sounded off Monday to Newsday about the difference between being a ‘practice player’ and a ‘game player’. For the record, Ho-Sang was exceptionally ineffective in his first preseason game, Monday evening, playing on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl. So, there’s that.

Bellows had a very impressive opening of training camp, sniping a power-play goal off a Jordan Eberle feed and cranking one off the crossbar minutes later in Sunday’s preseason opener, showing an incredible release and a knack for finding the back of the net, both traits that have been well advertised.

“I know he can shoot the puck, that’s what he does,” Trotz said to Newsday’s Andrew Gross of Bellows. “At the end, he chewed on a point shot to make sure he defended well. To me, that means more than the goal and the assist.”

Graziano: Islanders Enter Preseason As Lamoriello's Changes Take Effect

Sure, Bellows’ effort was against a crop of Philadelphia Flyers bound for the AHL, but nonetheless, a start like that has to have the young gun ready for a taste of more.

More? How about where? As in, where does he fit? As with Ho-Sang, it’s becoming increasingly hard to see Lamoriello and new head coach Barry Trotz sitting experienced newcomers Filppula, Leo Komarov or Tom Kuhnhackl regularly. That’s not even mentioning seeing what they have in Jan Kovar and figuring out how to get returnee Matt Martin his minutes.

This would be a better conversation if we were talking competition for the Islanders second line, but we’re talking third and fourth units here, lines that are going to get 10-14 minutes per game. New York’s top six seem to be fairly locked in with Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, barring any last minute deals that materialize out of nowhere.

A problem, yes. A problem that Lamoriello created with excess bottom six signings. That’s not to say it won’t work out in the end, we’ll just have to wait and see how everything fits once the season starts.

Defensively, the issue isn’t who Lamoriello signed. There simply was nobody on the free agent market worth taking an expensive chance on and the trade market continues to be extremely tight, if not non-existent, for quality blueliners. He could have been more aggressive in keeping Calvin de Haan in the fold, who will be missed more than fans realize, but bringing in Dennis Seidenberg and Luca Sbisa on PTOs is not the end of the world, as many made it seem when the deals were announced.

One, PTO just means a professional tryout, there is no contract obligation. It’s a chance for Lamoriello and Trotz to evaluate, as they need to do for everyone, being so new to the organization. Second, it gives them some depth so they don’t need to waste useless preseason minutes on Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, etc…keeping the most important parts of the defense rested and healthy for the regular season. Lastly, while both players production on the ice leaves a lot to be desired, they are professionals off it, especially Seidenberg, who hosted Barzal last season at his home. That can’t be anything but positive for youngsters Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Noah Dobson and Devon Toews. This is a very young, raw defense that can use any tutelage and mentorship it can find.

At the end of the day, the pair might get cheap contracts for a press box seat or stint in the AHL, being held back just in case the worst case scenario happens with an injury or two or three to the defense. The final chapter of the 2018-19 Islanders season won’t be written with an epilogue on the two veteran defenseman. If it is, will there be any fans left to notice? Or care?

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN