This week, 47 players are participating in the annual New York Islanders prospect camp. Most of the participants are prospects within the Islanders system, while others were invited based on their high quality of play in leagues around the world over the last season. Prospect camp is also the first chance for recent draftees like Griffin Reinhart, Ville Pokka and Adam Pelech to work out with their new club and impress the coaching staff.
Camp started Monday morning with physicals and headshots for all the players, followed by off-ice workouts and weightlifting. Islanders Director of Sports Performance Sean Donellan ran much of the workout, instructing players how to use their bodies efficiently during competition. Donellan says that these exercises are in place to teach the new players, as well as to reinforce good habits with the players who have attended past prospect camps.
“One of the principles of our training methodology is movement and helping the athletes move better,” Donellan said. “Anybody can lift weights and get big and strong, but what we need to do is to teach our athletes how to better use their strength and power and be more efficient mechanically on the ice.”
These are lessons that new players like Pokka are expected to take with them, whether they spend next season with the Islanders, a minor league club or junior club. Pokka, who the Islanders selected in the second round of the NHL Draft on Saturday, says these workouts are different from the workouts he had in his native Finland.
“The training here is a bit different than in Finland, but it’s fun to learn new things here and focus on new things,” Pokka said. “It was a good practice for me. We rely more on upper-body strength here than back in Finland.”
For the new players, this week is the first chance to build relationships with their new teammates and prove themselves to the coaching staff. Reinhart, the Islanders first round (fourth overall) selection in last week’s draft, knows the importance of getting off on the right foot.
“It’s huge,” Reinhart said. “This is a big week. I want to make a good impression, and I want to stick here as soon as possible, so having a good week means everything to me.”
All in all, this has been a very eventful last few days for Reinhart, who is still trying to get acclimated to Long Island. Just 72 hours before the start of camp, the North Vancouver, B.C. native went into the NHL Draft not sure which of the 30 NHL teams he would end up with. Now, as one of the newest Islanders, Reinhart reflected on the last couple of days.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reinhart said. “I haven’t even gotten to see the rink yet. I woke up this morning, had a quick early breakfast and then physicals, and then went for a quick workout.”
For other players like Ryan Strome, who is attending his second prospect camp, the focus is a little different. Strome, the Islanders first round (fifth overall) selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, went through the same whirlwind this time last year. After a full year in the Islanders system that included Training Camp in September, a short period with the club at the beginning of the regular season and eventually a trip back to his junior club in Niagara for the majority of the season, Strome feels like he has the upper hand coming into camp this time around.
“I think it’s a huge advantage,” Strome said. “I think at this camp, the second time is a little more comfortable and I know everyone. Now I’m just here to work hard. There’s really no excuses – just come in and work as much as I can, and ask questions and be a better player by the end of it.”
While everyone on the Prospect Camp roster is 23 years old or younger, some have more experience at the professional level than others. For Casey Cizikas, who played 52 games with AHL Bridgeport last season, and even appeared in 15 contests for the Islanders, this week is a chance to continue his progression toward a full-time spot in the NHL.
“I’m just trying to come out here and do my best,” Cizikas said. “I came to my very first camp in 2009 and I was real nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Now, it’s just second nature. I’ve just got to come in and prove that I’ve been working hard this summer, and that the coaches can trust me in the offseason. It’s definitely a big camp for me and something I’m looking forward to.”
Players will start on-ice training on Tuesday, and do workouts both on and off the ice for the rest of the week. The culmination of everyone’s efforts will be on display at Thursday’s Blue & White Scrimmage at Iceworks, where the players will be broken down into two teams that go head-to-head on the ice.