The Islanders have stocked the cupboard with sizeable defensemen through recent drafts, and that talent has been on display this week at Mini Camp. With 20-year-olds Scott Mayfield and Andrey Pedan both making their pro debuts last spring, and 19-year-old Griffin Reinhart, widely regarded as the organization’s top defensive prospect, hoping to make the Islanders roster in Training Camp this fall, the future on the blue line looks bright.
Following his sophomore season at the University of Denver, Mayfield signed an Entry-Level Contract and joined AHL Bridgeport for the final six games of the regular season. Skating at Nassau Coliseum this week at Mini Camp, the Islanders second round (34th overall) selection in the 2011 Draft can see his dream of making it to the NHL on the horizon.
“I definitely feel like I’m getting closer, especially with signing after my college season and turning pro,” Mayfield said. “But at the same time, there’s always work to be done. I’m still not there yet. Playing in Bridgeport was definitely another step up. There were a few challenges, but I think I handled them well. The guys are older and they’ve been around a little bit longer. They’re more skilled and faster. So there’s definitely that change. But I feel like I was ready and I handled the jump.”
Looking at Mayfield’s stat line from his days at Denver and with Youngstown of the USHL, his penalty minute totals stand out. He led Denver by a wide margin in PIMs both years (76 in 2011-12 and 112 in 2012-13), but was only whistled for one minor infraction in six games with the Sound Tigers. The St. Louis, MO native believes the different rules between college and professional hockey will benefit his physical style.
“I struggled a little with penalties (in college), and then I came to Bridgeport and didn’t have that problem,” Mayfield said. “They let a little more go in the pros, because I have a bigger body and the other guys are older and bigger as well. I think that’s something I could use to my advantage, because I play more of a pro-style game.”
Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin believes the key for Mayfield is using his size and strength without sacrificing solid positional play in the defensive zone.
“Now it’s about the fine details,” Pellerin said. “He’s been able to transition his size into good, solid strength on his skates. He has a really strong stick in the corner. I think for him, it’s just being able to find that edge of his game where he can play that physical style without over-extending himself and getting out of position.”
Around the same time Mayfield turned pro, Pedan joined the Bridgeport blue line after wrapping up his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm. The Kaunas, Lithuania native improved his goals and points production each year of junior competition, topping out with 14 goals and 44 points last season, and notched a pair of helpers in eight games with the Sound Tigers.
“Obviously (AHL competition) was a little bit harder than the OHL because guys are bigger and stronger,” Pedan said. “But there’s a bunch of guys in Bridgeport who helped me on and off the ice. So I adjusted during the few games that I played there. I’ve been working on every aspect of my game – playing in front of the net, my first pass and moving my feet, to become a more complete player.”
Pellerin relied on Pedan, who had shown strong abilities in both the offensive and defensive zones, to play in a variety of game situations with the Sound Tigers.
“When guys come into a new team, you don’t want to overwhelm them,” Pellerin said. “You want them to feel their game and get them to play within our structure and our system. Andrey was able to play both sides of the puck, so we gave him as much as we thought he could handle.”
Another experience that aided Pedan’s development was representing Russia last August at the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge.
“It was an exciting event,” Pedan said. “(The Canadians) traveled a long way to play against us. Ryan Strome was there, and I saw him around Yaroslavl a couple times. Then we went to Halifax for a couple games and had great crowds in both countries. It was a great event to be a part of.”
Reinhart is coming off his third junior season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he served as team captain. Just 19, Reinhart is too young to play in the AHL, so if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in Training Camp, likely head back to the Oil Kings for further development.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make it and show the coaches that I deserve to be here, and try to prove that I can play here,” Reinhart said. “I’m looking forward to that opportunity. Last year was a little bit different with the shortened season, so I never got to come into a full camp. I’m looking at it two ways – I have to make an impression, but at the same time I look to enjoy the process.”
In addition to captaining the Oil Kings to their second consecutive WHL Finals appearance, the North Vancouver, BC native also appeared in international competition for his home country. He donned the maple leaf at the Canada-Russia Challenge, and went back to Russia for the World Junior Championship in December and January.
“Those experiences were all a lot of fun,” Reinhart said. “I grew up watching Team Canada at tournaments like the World Juniors and the Olympics, and in the last couple years I realized it was an achievable goal. Getting to put on the jersey, being overseas, away from Canada and having all that support was amazing. Hopefully I can do it again.”
Reinhart will continue to train this offseason in Vancouver. He says his game has come a long way since the Islanders used the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on him.
“I’ve improved my skating and the way I think the game,” Reinhart said. “I’m going to continue to work, and if I can keep improving in those areas, I think I’ll be able to make the transition to the pros that much easier. I don’t feel like there’s one specific flaw in my game that I need to improve, but there’s a bunch of little habits that make the difference between juniors and the pros, and hopefully I can do those things.”
Mayfield will spend the summer months working out in Denver with some of his old teammates, while Pedan will head to Toronto, where he works with former NHLer Gary Roberts, who runs a training program and has worked with many pro hockey players in recent years. Pedan says that being around camp this week has fueled his drive to make it to the top league in the world.
“Being around here this week, you want to keep working hard to make it to the NHL,” Pedan said. “When you’re in the gym and you do three sets, you want to do a fourth. When you come in, you want to do everything that you can to get up to this level. I’ll just keep trying to reach that first game in the NHL.”