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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Dylan Reese played for four minor league clubs since he graduated from Harvard University in 2007, but the defenseman was not given his first opportunity to play in the National Hockey League until he was traded to the Islanders organization last March. Since then, a whirlwind of events have transpired and Reese has found himself playing for the New York Islanders.

After signing with the Islanders on March 1, 2010, the 6’1” 201-pound defenseman was immediately sent to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he played one game notching one goal and one assist for two points. But he wasn’t even allowed an adjustment period to get to know his new teammates. Immediately thereafter, Reese was recalled to the Islanders and made his NHL debut March 4, 2010 after Andrew MacDonald broke his foot and the Islanders needed a sixth defenseman.

Meeting two new teams in two days was a challenge, but a welcome one as it gave the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native his first opportunity to showcase his talents in the NHL. Reese finished the regular season playing 19 games with the Islanders. In that time, he scored 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points, a +4 ranking and 14 penalty minutes.

“I was nervous and excited for sure,” Reese said. “I met two new teams in two days. That was a little different. So it was definitely a nerve racking feeling getting called up and going straight to Atlanta and meeting a team that I didn’t know and playing that night. It was more nerve racking than anything else I’d say.”

Dylan Reese #42 of the New York Islanders skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 24, 2010 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
While Reese may have started this season in Bridgeport, he was recalled from the Sound Tigers on emergency loan Nov. 15 and has recorded a significant amount of time in the five games since he arrived. Since being recalled, Reese has played in five games for the Islanders and has recorded a -3 ranking and 6 penalty minutes. In 15 games with the Sound Tigers, Reese scored one goal and five assists for six points, a -5 ranking and 17 penalty minutes.

But this season, Reese didn’t have those same nervous jitters when he found out he was being recalled. “The nerves are gone and the confidence is there because I played 19 games last year,” Reese said. “I was confident the day I got here opposed to last year.”

“I’m playing in more situations and I just feel like my game is developed overall,” Reese said. “I feel very comfortable defensively, which if anything, was the hardest adjustment. I’m still just trying to create as much offense as I can, just getting up in the rush. It’s a tough League to create offense in. There’s no question the defense is good so you need the fourth guy in the rush and I’ve tried to do a good job of that.”

As a rule, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano has given the players recalled from Bridgeport every opportunity to play, saying that he isn’t scared to give them ice time or let them play during critical situations.

Capuano expanded on Reese when he said, “Dylan has got a lot of poise with the puck. He’s got a good gap. He’s got great hockey sense. He understands the game well and he’s doing a good job for us right now.”

Capuano knows that this opportunity may be exactly what Reese was looking for, but he said, “It gives the organization an opportunity as well to take a look at Dylan and see what he has to offer. It gives Dylan a great opportunity to step in. When there is an injury that is what happens, guys get a chance and he’s handled himself very well. I think he’s playing with some confidence and that’s the most important thing.”

Each game that Reese has played this season, Capuano has given Reese a considerable amount of responsibility. After receiving 7:20 of ice time in his first game, Reese was given 13:27 and 15 TOI respectively. And in that third game, Reese earned his first shift on the penalty kill.

In the next two games, the 26-year-old would be given even more responsibility. The day before Thanksgiving, Reese recorded 17:24 on the ice while shorthanded for 2:22. He took two shots and blocked three. Then in the Islanders 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils, Reese recorded 16:53 TOI, was on the power play for 2:12 and was on the penalty kill for 1:49. He recorded one hit, one blocked shot and one takeaway.

The time he’s spent on special teams has been important to Reese.

Chris Higgins #21 of the Florida Panthers tries to split the defense between Dylan Reese #42 and Zenon Konopka #28 of the New York Islanders during the first period of a hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum on November 20, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
“I’ve been comfortable on the penalty kill,” Reese said. “Over the years, I never really saw myself as a penalty killer but I think that I’ve just been playing smart. In this League, it’s a lot different than the American League. In the AHL you can pressure a lot more and can usually cause a little more ruckus out there because guys bobble the puck more than they do here.”

“Here you just kind of have to wait for your opportunity to jump someone or clear the puck and just try not to run around too much,” Reese continued. “Just talk, keep it simple, block shots when you have to and rely on the system to take care of you.”

Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 2003 Entry Draft (seventh round, 209 overall), just prior to his freshman year at Harvard, Reese played four years of college hockey for the Crimson. He was the team’s top scoring defenseman for three years and served as the team captain his senior year while recording an ECAC career-high nine goals.

After graduation, Reese played 10 games for the Hartford WolfPack, the Rangers American Hockey League affiliate, where he recorded four assists and 12 penalty minutes. He also played two games in the Calder Cup Playoffs before the WolfPack released him from his contract and the defenseman was signed as a free agent by the San Antonio Rampage, the Phoenix Coyotes AHL affiliate in September 2007.

Reese played two full seasons (2007-08, 2008-09) with the Rampage, notching a career-high 27 assists, 28 points and 64 penalty minutes in 75 games his second season. The season prior, Reese scored one goal and six assists for seven points, a +1 ranking and 49 penalty minutes.

Then in 2009-2010, Reese was traded to the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and played 51 games earning four goals and 18 assists for 22 points, a +12 ranking and 31 penalty minutes before the Islanders acquired the defenseman in a trade March 1, 2010.

While the Rangers, Coyotes and Blue Jackets never gave Reese the opportunity to prove that he could play at the NHL level, he is happy about the opportunity the Islanders have given him.

“I knew coming out of school that my route wouldn’t be straight to the NHL. I mean I wished it would have obviously, but I knew that I would have to work my way through. I’m thankful for the opportunity I had in San Antonio for two years, but they were real honest with me saying that I wasn’t really a piece of their long-term puzzle. But when I got traded here last year it turned out to be a blessing in disguise with the opportunity I got right away. I always knew that I could play at this level and I was confident of that. It was just a matter of finding a team to give me that chance.”
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