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Wisniewski hears opportunity knocking with Isles

Tuesday, 08.03.2010 / 2:31 PM / 2010 Offseason News

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Wisniewski hears opportunity knocking with Isles
The newest member of the Islanders' defense, James Wisniewski is looking forward to showcasing his offensive upside with his new team.
James Wisniewski understands the business side of hockey. On Friday night, just hours after signing a one-year deal worth $3.2 million, he was traded for the second time in 16 months when the Anaheim Ducks sent him to the New York Islanders for a conditional third-round draft pick.

"I thought if something was going to happen, it would have happened a lot earlier," Wisniewski told NHL.com. "I got back from my honeymoon on July 27, and I think we got the deal done on the 30th. Two hours later, I got traded. I was actually in a gym and I come out and I've got five missed calls. It's kind of been a roller-coaster month for myself."

That roller coaster may be back on its way up. For the first time in his still-young career, the 26-year-old Wisniewski will be provided the opportunity to be a bona fide, first-pair defenseman. Actually, it's difficult to see the Canton, Mich., native playing anywhere but on the top pairing alongside world-class blueliner Mark Streit. Wisniewski averaged 24:20 of ice time per game last season, a statistic that will likely only rise on Long Island.

"I was speaking to some friends of mine, and I'd say he's probably one of the most underrated defensemen in the League right now," said Wisniewski, who had a career-high 30 points (3 goals, 27 assists) in 69 games with the Ducks last season. "Every year the last three, four years, he's put up close to 60 points. He doesn't get much recognition, but I think it's going to be pretty exciting to play with an elite player like himself."

Wisniewski was an elite player at the junior level before he began his professional career with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals in 2004. In his final OHL season, Wisniewski had 17 goals and 53 assists in just 50 games with the Plymouth Whalers.  Now, he's eager to show he can be an elite defenseman for the Islanders, who continue to assemble an impressive group of young talent.

"I don't think I've really gotten a chance to show my offensive potential," Wisniewski said. "I've never really been on a first power-play unit. When I was playing juniors, I had 70 points in 50 games. I don't think anybody can just do that. You have to have offensive potential, and I don't think I've been granted the opportunity to be on the top power-play unit."

There's little doubt Isles coach Scott Gordon will give Wisniewski that chance. While the latter isn't too familiar with his new coach, he's ready to showcase his abilities for Gordon when training camp opens on Long Island next month.

"I don't know much about him," Wisniewski admitted. "I've heard that he's a hard-nosed coach that's fair and demands a lot but loves offensive chances. He demands a lot, which is fine. There's nothing wrong with a coach that expects high expectations and makes you work for it. I haven't talked to him, (but) I was talking to (Isles GM) Garth Snow, and it seems like he's going to have big expectations for myself."

Wisniewski knows all about playing for an up-and-coming team, as the 5-foot-11, 197-pounder was a fifth-round selection (No. 156) by Chicago in 2002. He was a part of that organization until March 4, 2009, when the Blackhawks shipped him to Anaheim as a part of a deal that sent Samuel Pahlsson to the Windy City. The trade went down a mere 14 months before the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Wisniewski could do nothing more than tune into NBC and watch so many of his former teammates skate around the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia with hockey's Holy Grail. It was painful, indeed.

"It was nice to see my friends get a Stanley Cup and the city desperately needed that," Wisniewski said. "It's just good for the NHL to have an Original Six team come out of the woodworks after being at the bottom of the barrel for so long. It's just good for hockey. But when I got traded, there was only two guys -- Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith -- who were originally on the team when we started the year after the lockout. It kind of (stunk) to grow up with these guys, help rebuild the organization and seeing the changes that they made to become a Class-A team and then get traded right at the last second before they pretty much win a Stanley Cup."

Armed with yet another one-year contract, Wisniewski can become an unrestricted free agent next July. Although some might put added pressure on themselves to produce, Wisniewski says he'll be completely relaxed when the Isles open the 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 against the Dallas Stars at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"I don't think I've really gotten a chance to show my offensive potential.  I've never really been on a first power-play unit. When I was playing juniors, I had 70 points in 50 games. I don't think anybody can just do that. You have to have offensive potential, and I don't think I've been granted the opportunity to be on the top power-play unit." -- James Wisniewski

"To be honest, no, because it's my fifth one-year deal in a row," Wisniewski said. "I'm kind of used to it now, so it's kind of normal for me. I want to help them turn it around. I want to become part of a winning team and an organization that wants to win and puts themselves in situations to win.

"I'm going to be coming to an organization that kind of reminds me of how I was feeling in Chicago with a young team. I guess you can say I'm a veteran player now and I can be part of a rebuilding organization that has so much tradition and won four Stanley Cups in a row. They have a lot of young, skilled talent. It's going to be fun stepping in and being a big part of this organization."

And although the Islanders were unable to convince premier free agent defensemen to sign with the club this summer, Wisniewski assured NHL.com that they will have every opportunity to retain the skilled blueliner next July.

"I want to be on a team that sees me as a big part of their winning organization," Wisniewski said. "I think the Islanders would obviously be someone I really want to look into and see where they're heading. From the looks of it, they're going in the right direction. Long Island has the best golf courses in the United States, and it's right around the corner. That's all I like to do in the summertime -- work out, play golf. That just fits me perfectly."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL






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