As the New York Islanders rookies reported for training camp last week, two players, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield, stood out from the rest.
Pulock, 20, and Mayfield, 22, are on the veteran side of rookie camp, both in age and experience. Mayfield, 6’4 and 224 pounds, has seven NHL games under his belt, as well as two full AHL seasons with the Sound Tigers. Pulock has one full AHL season, but this is his third rookie camp and at 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is one of the thickest players taking drills.
They are both still on their first contracts, which is why they are reporting alongside the 18-year-olds, but both have their eyes on sticking around with the Islanders when the season opens on Oct. 9 in Brooklyn.
“My goal is to make the team,” Mayfield said. “I’m very confident. I’ve played seven games now – two years ago I played at the end of the season – and it’s given me confidence and drive going into both of my summers. I work hard in the summer.”
Mayfield had a chance to prove himself in last year’s playoffs, playing in the Islanders’ final two games after a rash of injuries hit the blue line. Pulock is yet to make his NHL debut, but the 2013 first-round pick is knocking on the door after scoring 17 goals last season in Bridgeport.
“Playing in the AHL last year, I think it’s improved me a lot,” Pulock said. “Playing against bigger, older, more mature players and working in the Isles system, playing the same d-zone stuff, I have a good feeling for that end of it. I know what [the Islanders coaches] expect. I feel good that way.”
With six defenseman – Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait – already signed for the season, the consensus is that there’s only one spot available. It’s something the Sound Tigers teammates have to reconcile.
“Everyone goes through it; it’s healthy competition,” Mayfield said. “It brings out the best in us. We offer different things on the ice and are really good friends off the ice. I want to make that spot as bad as he does and we are going to battle it out. It’s part of it.”
They do play different games. Mayfield is a big-bodied, defensive defenseman, tasked with clearing the front of his net and getting in the face of opposing players. He’s tough – he boxes and trains MMA in the offseason – and plays with an edge, racking up 173 penalty minutes in the process. Mayfield said his biggest improvement this summer was maintaining a quick first step and he wants to show off his agility over the next few weeks.
“I know the game I need to play and the style I need to play,” Mayfield said. “I feel comfortable defensively, with the systems we run, how I feel in the corners and in front of the net. On the offensive blue line, my first pass and moving up the ice, I know I can bring more offensively.”
Pulock is an offensive defenseman/power-play quarterback with a booming slap shot. He’s a big, thick defenseman in his own right, but puts that power into his shot, which hit 105 mph on the radar gun at the Blue & White Scrimmage in July.
“That can be a big part of my game. I’ve used it as a weapon over the years,” Pulock said. “Its something I worked on a lot last year, worked on this summer, just firing pucks, getting them away quick, something I’ll continue working on throughout the season. If I’m able to get it off it might open up other areas of the ice for other guys, which is key as well.”
This will be the last Islanders rookie camp for both defensemen, who are entering the final year of their entry-level contracts, both signed before the 2013-14 season. They are both looking to make an impact on the coaching staff, so having an extra week to tune up and skate for Jack Capuano may not be a bad thing, especially if the competition is as close as it’s expected to be.
“It’s a tight back end,” Pulock said. “For myself, I’m going to come in here and try to improve every day, battle every day to get better and I think that’s all I can really do for my part and see where it puts me at the end of training camp.”