While it’s still preseason, and there’s plenty of time for the Islanders to tweak their lines before the season opener on Oct. 4, one line combination at this week’s practices has been particularly intriguing. Neither Peter Regin, Brock Nelson nor Pierre-Marc Bouchard were with the Islanders last season, yet the trio has been working on its chemistry together during camp.
While the Moulson-Tavares-Bailey combo has shown promise, the Grabner-Nielsen-Okposo line has a proven track record of success and the Martin-Cizikas-McDonald trio has worked well together, having the newcomers on one line gives head coach Jack Capuano the chance to evaluate all three players without altering the chemistry elsewhere.
“We're just experimenting a bit with some lines,” Capuano said. “This week they've looked pretty good. We know most of the guys here, but some of the new guys we want to put in different situations to see how they react.”
Nelson was a first-round pick in 2010 and played with AHL Bridgeport last season before making his NHL debut in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against Pittsburgh. Bouchard and Regin were both acquired on July 5, the first day of the free agent signing period.
All three players are trying to find their role on the 2013-14 Islanders squad and learn the system together. Regin says the adjustment has actually been smoother than if he were thrown onto a line with two players who had existing chemistry.
“Sometimes it's easier to do this than be with two guys who have played together for 10 years,” Regin said. “I think everybody has a high hockey IQ when you're at this level and understands systems. Obviously some things are a little different, but at the end of the day we all still have to fill our role.”
Because of the unfamiliarity that each player has with his new linemates, Bouchard says the trio has no choice but to communicate at all times during and between shifts.
“We've been talking a lot during practices,” Bouchard said. “When you communicate it makes things easier. For all of us, it's a new system in our own zone, on the forecheck, in the neutral zone, offensive zone set up and everything. So far this week we've had some good practices and I think we're headed in the right direction.”
While Nelson technically has the most experience in the organization, and played in a similar system in AHL Bridgeport, the rookie is wisely leaning on Bouchard (10 years of NHL experience) and Regin (six years) when necessary.
“I think all the other guys, especially those two, are huge mentors for me as I continue to learn the game,” Nelson said. “They've played it much longer than I have so they know what it’s all about.”
Capuano says each player brings a valuable unique skill to the table.
“Bouchard is obviously crafty, he's got good vision and he can put up points,” Capuano said. “Regin's done a good job up until this point. I've seen a lot of him up in Binghamton in the American League. Hopefully that line can get some productivity for us. Brock is a guy who put up some numbers last year. We moved him from center to the wing just like he played at North Dakota. We want him to get comfortable. He’s playing sound defensively, but we want to see some more creativity and some more offense as well.”
Capuano hasn’t announced any lines or D-pairings for Friday’s preseason matchup against Nashville, but Regin believes his line has made a lot of progress this week and wants to see how they stack up in game action.
“Each day has been better,” Regin said. “It takes a little bit of time to get used to everything. Hopefully we'll play well if we get a chance to play tomorrow. As far as linemates go, they're two great players.
Puck drop at Nassau Coliseum is slated for 7:00 p.m. The only way to watch the contest is to buy tickets HERE.