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Islanders Add Depth

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

The Islanders made a slew of moves on the first day of free agency, signing seven new players to the organization.

Three players, center Cory Conacher, goaltender Chad Johnson and defenseman T.J. Brennan received one-way deals from the Islanders, while Kael Mouillierat, David Leggio, Jack Skille and Harry Zolniercyk received two-way contracts.

“We addressed a big need of ours, adding a backup goalie, an offensively-talented defenseman and depth at the forward position,” Snow said.

Conacher joins the Islanders after splitting last season with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. The 5’8, 180-pound forward scored 26 points (7G, 19A) in 79 games last year between the two squads. Conacher broke into the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012-13, scoring 24 points (9G, 15A) in 35 games before being dealt to the Senators.

The small, speedy forward excelled in college, as well as the American Hockey League, winning numerous individual and team awards. Conacher was named the AHL’s MVP in his rookie season with the Norfolk Admirals in their Calder Cup winning season. He also won the Atlantic Hockey Association Player of the Year in 2009-10, while playing for the Canisius College Golden Griffins. The Burlington, ON, native is the highest scoring Griffin in the school’s history.

“Cory is a young player who has had a lot of success at the AHL and NHL levels.” Islanders General Manager Garth Snow said. “For us, the versatility to move him around the lineup was appealing.”

While Conacher was the Islanders biggest catch at forward Tuesday afternoon, the team shored up its crease and added a piece to their blue line on the first day of free agency.

The Islanders inked goaltender Chad Johnson and defenseman T.J. Brennan in the opening hour of Tuesday’s free agent frenzy. Johnson, who went 17-4-3 with a .925 save percentage last season with the Boston Bruins, agreed to terms on a two-year deal, while Brennan, who was named the American Hockey League’s top defenseman last season, inked a one-year deal.

“We had a need for a backup goalie and Johnson had an excellent season last year,” Snow said. “We feel that he’s going to be more than capable to partner up with Halak. He’s someone who we’ve watched in the AHL and last year was his first stint in the NHL and he performed at a high level.”

Johnson completes the Islanders overhaul in net, as he and Jaroslav Halak take the reins between the pipes in 2014-15. The Islanders signed Halak to a four-year deal on May 22.

The additions of Halak and Johnson address the Islanders biggest need from 2013-14, as the team had the NHL’s 30th ranked save percentage (.894), with no starter recording a save percentage above .900. In contrast, Johnson had the sixth highest SV% in the NHL last season, while Halak (whose save percentage was .921) was tied for 13th.

Looking at all the teams that were a possibility, the Islanders were the best fit. There’s a good core group of young guys coming up. They’re heading in a positive direction and I wanted to be a part of that.T.J. Brennan

“Hopefully for myself and (Jaroslav) Halak, we can bring some stability in goal,” Johnson told Islanders TV. “He’s very underrated, he’s a very consistent goalie and he’s always in good position. He is very similar to the way I play.”

Johnson is a former Hobey Baker Award finalist (2008-09) for the top collegiate player in the nation. The Calgary, AB, native was a fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2006 Draft and spent the next three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, eventually winning the CCHA Player of the Year award in 2008-09. Johnson debuted in the NHL with the New York Rangers and also played with the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Bruins signed Johnson to a one-year deal last season and he played in 27 games. Johnson responded to the increased workload last year with his best season statistically.

Brennan, a native of Willingboro, NJ, was taken 31st overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2007 Draft, but could not find steady NHL ice time with the Sabres or Florida Panthers in the following seasons. Brennan was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs organization last season and had a breakout campaign with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

The offensive defenseman led all AHL blueliners with 72 points (25G, 47A) and finished fourth in overall league scoring. Brennan was determined to prove his worth and reclaim a job in the NHL and the offensive outburst has earned him a one-way contract from the Islanders, where he could be used as a power-play specialist.

“Looking at all the teams that were a possibility, the Islanders were the best fit,” Brennan said. “There’s a good core group of young guys coming up. They’re heading in a positive direction and I wanted to be a part of that.”

As the first day of free agency became the first night of free agency, Snow confirmed that pitches and negotiations were ongoing.

“We’re always looking to improve the team,” Snow said. “We feel we’ve accomplished that today with our signings. We will continue to look at other possible options to help our team return to the playoffs.”

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