On Thursday, Chris Johnston reported that the New York Islanders were bringing in UFA left-shot defenseman Erik Gustafsson. The move seems to indicate that Lou Lamoriello has set his blueline for the 2021-22 season.
Except for the fact that Gustafsson’s deal is only a Professional Try-Out (PTO). It’s not an actual NHL contract. Which means the team’s blueline isn’t set just yet.
New York Islanders lineup isn’t set after Gustafsson PTO
That also means that it’s possible any defenseman currently under contract (or on a PTO) that isn’t necessarily tied down to an NHL spot has a chance to make the team out of camp.
You’d have to think that Gustafsson is the favorite for the spot. He’s only three years removed from a 60 point season for the Chicago Blackhawks. Clearly, Lou wants to see if that Gustafsson is still there.
But there’s a reason he didn’t just outright sign Gustafsson to a contract. Lou isn’t sure Gustafsson can be the player he was a few years ago. He’s also not sure, as Matt O’Leary pointed out, that Gustafsson could even play well in a defense-first system like the one employed by Barry Trotz.
Which means there will be an open competition for a left-shot D on the roster through training camp. So guys like Thomas Hickey, Sebastian Aho, Samuel Bolduc, Robin Salo, and Paul LaDue (reportedly coming to the Island) will all have a chance to make their case for that spot on the roster.
So who takes Nick Leddy’s spot on the roster for 2021-22 is still up in the air, even after this most recent “signing”. Which makes me think of something Robin Salo told me about this very situation not too long ago: “All I know is the best players are gonna be in the lineup and play. It’s no rocket science.”