Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
New York Islanders goaltending prospect Anders Nilsson is healthy and ready for his shot at making the big club’s Oct. 4, 2013 roster, which is good news for the man considered by NHL scouts to have the highest ceiling of any goalie prospect in the Isles’ farm system.
After being diagnosed with an unknown, fatigue-inducing illness in January—later determined to be a vitamin B12 deficiency—Nilsson participated in the Islanders’ rookie training camp at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum this weekend and told Eyes On Isles he felt no ill effects from his time on the ice or in the weight room.
“I feel great. I can’t remember the last time I felt this good. I feel I’m back to 100 percent. My energy level is back and I’m able to be on the ice and work on my game, and work on being a better goalie instead of being out there and trying to save up my energy to go through a practice.”
At 6’5” and 227 lbs, the 23-year-old netminder has the size to cover the goalmouth and the skill set to make opposing shooters work to find an opening against him. And now that he’s no longer feeling the effects of a vitamin deficiency, Nilsson is preparing to take a confident next step in his development.
“This summer has been good for me. Every time I’ve been on the ice I’ve just been feeling better and better. I’m excited for the season and it feels like a fresh start for me.”
Prior to his early 2013 diagnosis, Nilsson had posted a 1-2 record in four games with the Isles during the 2011-12 season, recording a 2.75 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. His lone win was an impressive 24-save, 1-0 shutout over the Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey Devils on Mar. 2, 2012.
The scouting report on Nilsson emphasizes his agility, technical ability and mental toughness: all qualities that a future no. 1 NHL goaltender should own. He challenges shooters and has remained a consistent netminder at all development levels throughout his career. With another year of experience in North America, he should grow into what the Islanders hope will be their long-term solution in goal.
Whether Nilsson earns a spot on the Islanders’ roster to start this season is dependent on his preseason play this month. He’ll participate in the team’s main training camp beginning Thursday, Sept. 12 at Barlcays Center in Brooklyn—continuing at Iceworks and the Coliseum thereafter—where he’ll have to prove that his newfound good health has translated into solid play on the ice.
It’s no secret that Nilsson will face some stiff competition for the backup job in camp. Kevin Poulin currently has a hold on that roster spot, meaning Nilsson will have to outperform an incumbent who played in seven NHL games for a playoff team last season, including two postseason contests in which he recorded a 1.14 GAA and a .933 SV%. Poulin has also played in 21 career NHL games to Nilsson’s four.
“For my view, I’m only focusing on myself and trying to play as good as I can. I feel I took a huge step this summer. I’ve been skating a lot; I feel more than ready for the season,” Nilsson said.
Poulin’s Islanders numbers may comprise a small sample size, but he enters training camp with the inside track on backing up Nabokov at season’s start. Nilsson will have to be in top form to displace him, but from what we saw of the big Swede at Isles rookie camp, he’s well on his way.
(Ask Isles uber-prospect Ryan Strome how it went when he tried to pick out the top corner in shooting drills against Nilsson. Hint: not well for Strome.)
“The highest expectations [are] the ones that you have on yourself and that’s the same way I feel,” Nilsson said. “I know my level and I know at what level I can play. Hopefully I can reach up to that this year and be able to play at a high level consistently.”
Nilsson is saying all the right things off the ice; now he has the chance to showcase all the right things in net.
As always, thanks for reading us at Eyes On Isles. Make sure to follow me on the Twitter (@MichaelWillhoft) so we can talk Isles hockey, Swedish goaltenders, or political ideology. (Just kidding about the politics part. I’m barely qualified to write words on the Internet, let alone engage in political discourse.)