By Daniel Friedman
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Islanders training camp began in earnest on Friday and over the next two weeks there will be questions answered and kinks ironed out.
This was not an offseason of big change for the Isles, so most of the faces at camp are familiar ones. Michael Grabner is the exception. He was dealt to Toronto on Thursday.
Among the few who are new to the group is Thomas Greiss, who will be taking over as backup goaltender, a role that needed to be filled when Michal Neuvirth departed as a free agent.
But just because there weren’t many changes, it doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of intriguing storylines as the team begins the 2015-16, its first in Brooklyn following a 43-year run at Nassau Coliseum.
I really think Petrov is facing an uphill battle here, and not just because the Islanders brought in Steve Bernier and Taylor Beck over the past few days. I also think Brock Nelson’s spot could’ve been his had it been vacated, but then again, I always felt Nelson would sign by the start of training camp. Unless Petrov cracks the opening night lineup, I’d send him down.
For me, it comes down to this: Would you rather have Petrov sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch, or playing every night in Bridgeport? Remember, this is a guy who still needs to get acclimated to the North American game, as well as the pace of the NHL compared to that of the KHL, so he needs to be exposed to game-type situations beyond practices and scrimmages.
He’s also not necessarily someone you want playing on the fourth line — though I do think he’d fit in on the third — because that’s not his role. You can’t compare Petrov to Bernier or Beck. They are different types of players, so it’s not as simple as you might think.
Over the last few years, Pulock has been right on the cusp. He’s not a shoo-in this time, either, but he does have a legitimate shot of making the opening night roster. I would even go so far as to say the job is his to lose.
I also think the Islanders didn’t go out and get a veteran defenseman to replace Lubomir Visnovsky because they wanted to keep the door open for Pulock. In the event he’s not ready, I think they’d explore a trade for a stopgap option.
Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang
I think both of these kids are heading back to juniors this season, simply because there’s no room on the roster and they’re too young to play in the AHL. What I’m curious to see is how far along they’ve really come in their development. What strengths are there that weren’t apparent last year? What do they still need to work on? Both players are very, very close. It’s just not the right time yet.
(Update: Islanders sent Ho-Sang back to Niagara of the OHL on Friday after he showed up late for the first day of camp. The team says his camp is over.)
Battle for sixth and seventh spots on defense
Pulock shouldn’t be in the mix here, because at that point it would be better for him to play every night in Bridgeport than be a healthy scratch in Brooklyn (as I said before regarding Petrov, albeit for similar but slightly different reasons). Scott Mayfield could also be in play, but I think you have to take the same approach with him as you do with Pulock – either he’s a lineup regular or he goes to the AHL. It’s more likely that, at least this season, Mayfield will be the preferred call-up in the event someone gets injured.
To me, it comes comes down to Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait. I think you might even see those two rotating for a good chunk of the season, though if it were up to me, Hickey would be the sixth blueliner and Strait an occasional fill-in. To Strait’s credit, though, he was very solid during the playoffs, but I’d still prefer Hickey in that sixth spot.
Who plays on John Tavares’ wings?
It seems like we ask this question every year, and every year we get six or seven different answers, constant revisions and retrials and more confusion than before. Kyle Okposo was a mainstay, and now we’re not even sure if he’ll be an Islander past the trade deadline. I would think Okposo and Anders Lee would be the ideal linemates for Tavares, but then again maybe the coaching staff gives Ryan Strome a look there. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out, and if the Islanders can finally solve this thing. But just remember, Dal Colle and Ho-Sang will soon send them right back to the drawing board.
Follow Daniel on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI