It’s been a tough season for New York Islanders prospect Reece Newkirk. This was supposed to be his fourth year representing the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. But with COVID shutting down the CHL that was put on hold as he was loaned to the Melville Millionaires of the SJHL.
Newkirk put up 12 points in six games before that league was also shut down due to the pandemic spreading in much of Canada and the prairie province of Saskatchewan.
I caught up with the Islanders fifth-round pick from 2019 to check in on his prolonged offseason, what he’s working on, and if the Islanders have been in touch. Spoiler, they have.
New York Islanders keeping tabs on Newkirk
It’s been a weird prolonged offseason for Newkirk who’s back at home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – a town of about 34,000 a few hours North of Montana. His days are pretty much spent at the gym and, when he can, at the local rink in Caronport. His key for dealing with the on-and-off season: stay positive.
"It’s a tough time for everyone right now, with everythign getting shutdown, you just got to stay positive. I’m talking with Eric Cairns [Islanders Director of Player Development], as well as my coach with Portland and Melville. A lot of people don’t know what’s happening so you just have to stay positive through it all."
Newkirk, left 19-20 in great form with 29 goals and 65 points in 55 games. Putting him on pace for 36 goals and 80 points. Which would have crushed his previous high of 59 points in 68 games from 18-19.
That form followed him in the SJHL where he was scoring two points per game on average before it was temporarily shut down. That production is a clear indicator that his success with the Winterhawks in 19-20 was of his doing and not derived off of teammates like Seth Jarvis.
And he’s not taking that success lightly, he knows he can still make improvements to his game. Outside of going to the gym and some ice-time here and there, he’s watching a lot of video clips to improve as a player.
"I’ve been working off ice to have more of a two-way game as a center man. I’ve been watching a lot of video clips. Just learning how to play center as I keep growing into the bigget leagues. Im just trying to develop a better two-way game."
In that conversation, I asked who he’s been watching. He’s clearly not just picking random clips to watch but is focusing on a single player. His answer: Patrice Bergeron.
Pressing on the Islanders role in his development I asked if Cairns and the Islanders development staff had any goals for him this year, or told him what he should perhaps work on with his offseason training.
"Just talking to him [Cairns] about what’s going on what I’m doing for training. They’re a real good organization the communication with Cairns and the development coaches is helping me out a lot. They trust me, they know what I need to do as a player. It’s building strentgh, quickness and more explosiveness in my game."
The fact that the Islanders are keeping close tabs on him was interesting. So, have the Islanders discussed what might happen at the end of this season and, what about the possibility of playing at the AHL level if the CHL doesn’t get underway?
"[On training and Isles]: Nothign yet, they’re keeping their distance. Obviously I’m not signed there yet, that’s my goal. They just said keep on pushing and hopefully I can get to that contract. That’s all I’m focused on right now.[On playing in the AHL]: No I haven’t really talked about that much right now. I haven’t heard too much about that. I’m focused on training. But whenever I get my chance I’ll take it."
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Ideally, the WHL season will get underway soon to return some sort of normalcy to the player’s lives and their fans.
I’d be surprised if the islanders don’t sign Newkirk to an ELC at the end of the season. Their organizational depth chart down the middle is not great and Newkirk is proving that he’s ready to make that jump to the next level.