Islanders Youngsters Proving They Belong : But Do They Stay?


Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders continue to produce quality prospects out of smart drafting and development within the organizational system.

Currently Ryan Strome is getting bigger, faster and stronger and learning the pro game under Scott Pellerin in Bridgeport along with a handful of others. As, arguably, the most prized prospect in the entire system, it shows the depth and quality that Garth Snow has built over the years of rebuilding.

Making the 23 man roster out of training camp were Brock Nelson, 22-year-old center/wing out of Minnesota and the first Oklahoma native to play in the National Hockey League, 23-year-old defenseman Matt Donovan. Both have seen action in the first two games of the 2013-14 season and did not look at all out-of-place.

Nelson has seen action on a ‘third’ line with newcomers Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin and was the teams best line in the opening night shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Consistent forechecking and cycling in the offensive zone combined with persistent and smart defensive coverage made them earn the start at home the following night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. While the performance that night was clearly not as effective, the play of Nelson certainly was.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned in the National Hockey League as a rookie and it’s quite obvious Nelson is a quick learner. After taking a bad retaliatory penalty in the game at New Jersey, he was faced with a similar situation the next night and showed restraint. 10:41 of ice time grew to 12:15 over the course of the two contests.

Never projected to be a dominant scorer at the NHL level, even coming off a 25 goal season at Bridgeport last year and a 28 goal campaign at the University of North Dakota the year earlier, Nelson has taken the 8 minute experience of last seasons playoffs and run with it all through training camp, showing poise and confidence. Whether that is enough to allow him to keep his place secure over the course of an entire season remains to be seen.

But the feeling here is that he has done absolutely nothing to earn a demotion, albeit over a small sample size.

Some would argue that Matt Donovan’s future role is just as in question primarily due to the vast quantity of quality defensemen present in the Islanders current organization.

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Since 2010, Snow has had 28 draft choices and has selected 14 defensemen, most notably the past two seasons in Griffin Reinhart, 4th overall in 2012 and Ryan Pulock, 15th overall in 2013.

Donovan came into training camp clearly on a mission to make the 23 man roster for opening night. When we spoke to him early on at rookie camp, he expressed confidence that clearly extended way beyond his years. Maturity on the ice showed every time he laced up his skates with the other Islanders prospects and he even commented that he felt a sense of responsibility to the others as a mentor, having been here before. This is a man who is not afraid of taking on the responsibility of being a leader, on and off the ice.

Offensive skills have shined at every level for Donovan, as he collected 81 points in 116 games for Cedar Rapids of the USHL, 53 points in 78 games for University of Denver and 97 points in 153 games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. Last season, he led all AHL defensemen with 14 goals.

Early on, logging 19:34 against New Jersey and collecting his first NHL point in the second period (an assist), and 14:37 against Columbus he has shown an offensive instinct the team can certainly use to recover from the loss of former captain Mark Streit. Willing to jump into the play but fast enough to get back and cover, he has been paired with Brian Strait.

On the defensive end, his positioning has been rock solid and he has not been out-muscled by any opposing forward thus far. His transition passes are still not where they need to be, but that will correct itself as he continues to adjust to the speed of the NHL game. Confidence was showed by the coaching staff in the Columbus game with Donovan seeing 1:13 on the penalty kill.

With the likes of Reinhart, Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Audrey Pedan and others seeking jobs in the coming seasons, as long as Donovan continues his positive, confident attitude, the skills are there for him to be a mainstay on this blueline for many years and who knows, maybe even become a leader of it.

Stick Checks

  • Cal Clutterbuck returned to practice today per Newsday’s Arthur Staple and if the medical staff gives its clearance, could be in the lineup tomorrow night as the Islanders play Phoenix at Nassau Coliseum.
  • The first and second lines remained untouched at the morning session with Okposo-Tavares-Moulson and Grabner-Nielsen-Bailey still skating as units.
  • You have to wonder just what the plan was for Griffin Reinhart at this point. The assumption was he made the 23 man roster as insurance against the unknown status, at the time, of Travis Hamonic. But with Hamonic seemingly 100%, why keep Reinhart around at this point?
  • Michael Grabner was clearly the Islanders best forward over the weekend, scoring two goals against New Jersey and creating havoc on the way to four breakaways. This could be a huge year for him if he keeps up this inspired play.
  • Assistant captain Andrew MacDonald leads all defensemen over the first two games in ice time, averaging 25:21. John Tavares paces the forwards at 21:37
  • Josh Bailey at 14:24 TOI? I am not an NHL coach, nor do I get paid like one, but I think that has to increase sooner rather than later.
  • Casey Cizikas has an incredible 67.9% faceoff percentage early on. He was 9/9 over the first two periods Saturday night.
  • Matt Martin pacing yet again in the hits department with 10 and A-Mac already has 10 blocked shots.