Matt Donovan returns for his second stint with the New York Islanders during the 2013-14 season and will dress tonight in place of Matt Carkner on the blueline when the Isles host the Dallas Stars beginning at 7:00pm EST from Nassau Coliseum.
The 23 year old native of Edmond, Oklahoma made the team deservedly out of training camp and played 22 games in his first tour of duty, posting a goal and 4 assists with a -5 defensive rating, averaging 16:53 in ice time.
In consecutive losses to Toronto (5-2), Pittsburgh (4-3) and Philadelphia (5-2), many felt Matt was playing the best hockey of his rookie season. Activating in the offensive zone, which has been a talking point by head coach Jack Capuano all season long, while limiting defensive mistakes.
In the next contest against the Winnipeg Jets, an eventual 3-2 loss, he committed a neutral zone turnover that led to a Jets goal off the rush. What immediately followed was a demotion to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League for what we learned today from Capuano was a move “to regain confidence”.
Correct me if I am wrong but to the eyes that post on this website, Matt was playing some pretty good hockey for a rookie. Was he making mistakes? Of course, but none that were any more apparent than the entire defensive roster has this season.
In fact, I would argue that he made less costly defensive zone turnovers that ended up directly on opponent’s sticks than assistant captain Andrew MacDonald this season. It did not help Matt’s development that he was often paired with Radek Martinek or Matt Carkner, both unable to cover for the steep National Hockey League defensive training curve (see Tyler Myers, Adam Larsson and many others).
Once Donovan returned to Bridgeport, you could see there is not much for him to learn in the AHL anymore. He played with his usual poise and control, posting 3-11-14 in 17 games with a +3 rating and 47 shots on goal.
He has to remain on the Islanders roster for the duration of the season at this point, be allowed to grow and develop with a solid partner that could cover up for the mistakes that WILL happen. In the few instances he was paired with Travis Hamonic for example, he looked much more comfortable just knowing the veteran was out there with him.
Nobody ever compared Donovan to Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin or Paul Coffey. But this is a kid with many skills as an offensive blueliner. His hockey sense and vision are in the top of the current class. And he should play a vital role in the future of the New York Islanders top 6.
The biggest question that remains is……will Capuano and Snow give him the proper surroundings to do so?