The Islanders recalled defenseman Aaron Ness from Bridgeport of the AHL on November 7 In the midst of a rash of injuries to several key players. The question now becomes: does he stick with the big club when the regulars he’s been filling in for return to active duty?
The Isles have struggled to put together a steady six-man rotation all season. Top-six defenders Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Brian Strait (upper body) are currently sidelined, and part-timers Matt Carkner and Radek Martinek have both missed time as well.
Ness is averaging nearly 14 minutes of ice time per game during his call-up. He has recorded his first career goal (Nov 15, vs LA) and first assist (Nov 17, vs Detroit) during the current six-game stint. That translates into a prorated 14-goal, 28-point full season, a pace which nobody expects him to maintain but which points to his level of improvement since his last appearance in the NHL. That was a nine-game showcase in 2011-12, during which he played close to 17 minutes per game and recorded no points with two penalty minutes.
At 5’10” and 182 lbs Ness is small by NHL standards, particularly for a defenseman. Not everybody can be as large as Zdeno Chara of course, but with today’s NHL player averaging 6’1” and 205 lbs, Ness tends toward the small side and may wear down over the course of a full season. He has, however, bulked up from 170 lbs, and he’s never shied away from physical contact, both of which may account for some of his success this season.
In nine games with Bridgeport this season Ness was second among team defensemen. He recorded a goal and added three assists with four PIMs and a minus six rating.
The team is 2-4 in his six games played, and have been outscored 19 to 13. Before he arrived they were 6-6-3 with 48 goals for and 49 against. During last week’s three-game home stand the team went 2-1, matching their opponents at nine goals apiece.
None of the other farmhands are ready for more than an occasional one or two-game look with limited ice time, and certainly not a regular shift, even on an interim basis. Ness has shown he can stand the rigors of regular duty and will very likely stick around through the return of some of the normal top six. If he stays beyond that point it would possibly in a reduced role, but not necessarily so. Assuming he continues to play at or above his current level of output it is conceivable Ness could work his way into a regular spot sooner than originally anticipated.