The New York Islanders announced their 23-man roster on Monday with little suspense. As expected, RW Cal Clutterbuck will start the season on IR, but his designation delays the one potentially tricky roster decision GM Lou Lamoriello and coaching staff have left to make.
When Clutterbuck returns, that leaves three forwards for two spots in the top-9 between Oliver Wahlstrom, Nikita Soshnikov, and Kieffer Bellows. While Clutterbuck's availability for Thursday is considered doubtful, he is skating on his own, and his absence won't be a prolonged one. That provides an opportunity for Soshnikov to make what would appear to be an easy decision on paper a more difficult one for the organization.
Of the three, Wahlstrom is the only forward that does not require waivers to be sent to AHL Bridgeport. He's missed time recently due to an upper-body injury suffered in a pre-season game but was back on the ice Monday wearing the gray jersey as an extra forward. “Just something happened in a preseason game, said Wahlstrom. It wasn't right. First practice back (Monday), it felt pretty good...Obviously, it's a little frustrating."
“Oliver’s first day of practice was today, him also being under the weather a little,” Lamoriello said. “And I’m sure the coaching staff is gonna come up with the best lineup for Thursday, but it’s nice to have these types of decisions and this type of competition.
Former Maple Leafs forward Nikita Soshnikov made the roster and has been skating on the fourth line, assuming the role of Clutterbuck. GM Lou Lamoriello had the 28-year-old forward in Toronto and recognizes that he brings a different dimension to the roster.
"I knew enough of him so we gave him an entry-level contract with no promises whatsoever and he’s done extremely well in training camp, and we’ll see where it takes us, said Lamoriello. He brings speed. Number one. And he’s not afraid. He competes.”
Bellows spoke confidently before the season about asserting himself as a regular in the team's lineup after signing a 1 year / $1.2M contract extension. "That’s what I want to be. I want to be making a big impact from day one, said Bellows. "That’s what I plan to do. I plan to be good defensively but also be a big offensive player, use my shot, and score some goals for this team."
Bellows finished the pre-season strong with a solid performance against the New York Rangers and got better as camp went on. His roster spot seems secure regardless of when Clutterbuck is 100% and returns to his familiar spot on the team's fourth line.
“Up until the last couple of games, he really wasn’t where he should have been,” Lamoriello said. “But I’m really pleased with the way he played in the last game. … We’re pleased with him. We know what we want out of him. He knows what we want out of him. He has to shoot the puck. And he has to put points up as well as be physical."