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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
When you think about a power play unit, usually you think about an experienced defenseman holding up the back end, guiding his four other teammates to open spaces. For the Islanders, who have gained a lot of depth on their blueline this off season, it is not clear who will fill that role on special teams this year, although Islanders sophomore defenseman Andrew MacDonald may get the nod.

The 24-year-old played the majority of the season with Mark Streit last year, gaining some invaluable experience from the Islanders top defenseman from the past two seasons.

“Anybody that’s on the ice with Mark, he makes them a better player,” MacDonald said. “He definitely helped me become a better player in many different situations. We talked on the bench about what he wanted me to do or what we could do differently, but he’s very, very positive, very upbeat. He’s been really helpful to my development at this level.”

With Streit on long term injured reserve due to a shoulder injury he sustained during the preseason, MacDonald may get the call to play on the Islanders top power play unit after impressing the Islanders coaches during preseason.

When asked if MacDonald could be on one of the Islanders top power play units, head coach Scott Gordon replied, “Absolutely.”

“To me he has picked up where he left off last year prior to his injury, he was playing some really good hockey,” Gordon said. “Both offensively and defensively, he’s stronger and his head for the game in the NHL is where it should be. He’s no longer an American League defenseman coming up to play in the NHL. He’s shown throughout training camp and last year that he’s above that level.”

To me he has picked up where he left off last year prior to his injury, he was playing some really good hockey. Both offensively and defensively, he’s stronger and his head for the game in the NHL is where it should be. - Scott Gordon
MacDonald, a defenseman who has come up through the Islanders farm system, spent two seasons guarding the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Utah Grizzlies bluelines before breaking into the Islanders lineup midway through the season last year. And he’s really excited he may get the opportunity to prove he is a great offensive defenseman.

“I know in junior I was an offensive player,” MacDonald said. “When I got drafted, I knew I wasn’t going to step in and be an offensive player right away turning pro, but over the last three years or so I’ve developed my offensive game at the pro level. Hopefully I can contribute on the power play this year if that’s what they (the Islanders coaches) decide.”

In his first NHL season for the Islanders, the 6’1” 201-pound defenseman posted one goal and six assists for seven points, a +4 plus-minus ranking and 20 penalty minutes in 46 games during the 2009-10 season. Before playing with the big club, MacDonald played 21 games for the Sound Tigers, posting eight points (2 goals, 6 assists), a +2 plus-minus ranking and 29 penalty minutes.

The native of Judique, Nova Scotia has shown tremendous offensive abilities. While with the Islanders organization, the defenseman has never ended a season with a negative plus-minus ranking. Last year, MacDonald concentrated his game on the defensive aspect of the game, even spending some extra time with the coaches looking at video.

“We really went over being tight defensively and keeping everybody in front of me,” MacDonald said. “It’s definitely been talked about how you have to be aware out there, especially when you’re against top lines. It’s definitely something I take a lot of pride in, in terms of having a good plus-minus out there as a defenseman.”

But the defenseman hasn’t had it easy. Originally drafted in the sixth round (160th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, MacDonald played his first season after being drafted with his junior club, the Moncton Wildcats, posting 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) in 65 games for a +5 plus-minus ranking and 81 penalty minutes, only seeing time in three games for the Sound Tigers.

The following season, MacDonald started the season with the Sound Tigers before being reassigned to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. Then in 2008-09, the defenseman completed his first full season with the Sound Tigers, notching more than 30 points and a +7 plus-minus ranking. He also made his NHL debut, appearing in three games for the Islanders.

While it’s been a bit of a long road making it to the NHL full time, MacDonald said his experience in the minors was very positive.

“It’s definitely been a good adventure, humbling to say the least,” MacDonald said. “It’s not easy when you’re on an NHL contract and you go down to the coast (ECHL). It’s kind of disappointing, but at the same time it gives you time to work on your game and do what you have to do.”

“I just went down and worked on the things they told me to work on, and when I came back up they were happy with how I was coming along. I just gained confidence from adjusting my game and doing what they want me to do. It’s been quite a journey, but it’s very gratifying to know where I came from and how I hit basically every level of hockey so far at the pro ranks. And to be where I’m at now, I’m pretty happy.”

While the sophomore may be new to playing at the NHL level, he is very experienced, learning from the best. And as a defenseman, his offensive game is remarkable. The Islanders would be very lucky to have him on their power play unit this season.
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