If mid-season form is something the Islanders will covet on opening night, they’ll look no further than the line of Casey Cizikas, Colin McDonald and David Ullstrom.
While Head Coach Jack Capuano has not confirmed whether the trio, who have combined for 67 points with AHL Bridgeport this season, will play together, they have been a consistent line throughout Training Camp.
“I don’t know if I’ll keep that line together, but they were a dominant line in Bridgeport,” Capuano said. “We decided to bring them up and give them some time. We’ll have some discussions on line combinations, but those three guys, with Ully’s speed, Colin’s work ethic and Casey’s sound defensive play have been good for us during Training Camp.”
Ullstrom, the left wing, is the player Islanders fans will be most familiar with heading into Saturday’s opener. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut on Nov. 21 last season, skating in 29 games with the Islanders and scoring four goals and four assists. He also led the Sound Tigers with 24 goals in 40 games last year.
“I’m very excited obviously for opening night,” Ullstrom said. “I’ve spent the summer preparing for the season, hoping to make the team out of camp. Even though we’re starting later than we thought we would, I’m just happy to get back here and get the season started.”
Cizikas, who has centered the line, is the youngest of the group at 21 years old. He played 15 games with the Islanders last spring, posting four assists, and ranked second on the Sound Tigers in scoring with 45 points (15 goals, 30 assists) in 2011-12.
“I’ve worked hard to get to this spot to make the opening night roster,” Cizikas said. “Now it’s up to me to make the most of it and show Cappy and the rest of the coaching staff that I can play here for a full season.”
Cizikas won just 40.9% of his faceoffs with the Islanders in 2011-12, but has been relied upon to take big draws all season in Bridgeport, especially on the penalty kill.
“Guys are smart and all have their different ways and tactics of going about faceoffs at this level,” Cizikas said. “Coming into camp, I asked Marty Reasoner for some tricks on what to do on my forehand and he talked to me and showed me some things. He’s shared some of his experience to make me better at that part of my game.”
McDonald, on the right wing, is new to the Islanders organization this season, but in his short time with Bridgeport earned the captaincy. A 28-year-old veteran of over 400 professional games, McDonald made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 2009-10 and played five games for Pittsburgh last season. The New Haven, CT native led the AHL with 42 goals in 2010-11, but has transitioned into more of a set-up role. He has skated alongside Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson for most of this season, posting six goals and 21 assists.
“I just kind of developed into that role,” McDonald said. “I’m more confident now. Before, I was more of a shooter and didn’t really look to pass. I’m confident in my ability that I can set up guys now. I’m still going to look to shoot first, but if that’s not the right play, then I know I can set someone else up.”
McDonald signed with the Islanders as a free agent last summer with the potential to be a regular NHL player in mind.
“Obviously this is what I’ve been working toward for a few years now,” McDonald said. “This organization has been honest and has followed through with everything they’ve had to tell me so far. I hope I’m playing Saturday. If I get the chance, then I’m going to play the way they expect me to play. I’m still trying to find a niche on this team that hopefully the coaches like. I’m thinking long-term but at the same time, taking things one day at a time.”
McDonald knows what will be expected of the trio provided they stay together on opening night and beyond.
“We’re a high-energy line,” McDonald said. “We can’t afford to make mistakes. We just have to get pucks in and wear their lines down, whether it’s defensemen or forwards, and be tough to play against. We all have playmaking ability, so if we get that opportunity, hopefully we can produce offensively.”
The Islanders confirmed their roster for the start of the 2012-13 season Friday. Thirteen forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders will be with the team on Saturday night, most likely leaving one forward and two defensemen as scratches. Capuano has not indicated yet who will be scratched.