The first roster changes of Training Camp were in place during Tuesday’s practice. Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Johan Sundstrom, Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart, who had practiced to this point with the rookies, were with the veteran players at Nassau Coliseum, while the other half of the roster practiced at Iceworks.
The players wisely did not view the move as a promotion by any means, but rather as confirmation that they are on the right track.
“I'm excited and I've been trying to do my best here since before rookie camp,” Sundstrom said. “Last year (in Bridgeport) worked out fine for me and I'm just trying to keep going. I think the first few games here against Calgary, Nashville and New Jersey were really good for me.”
Unlike Sundstrom, who has a full season learning the Islanders system in Bridgeport, Strome is trying to parlay last season’s 10-game AHL tryout into full-time NHL work.
“It's the first day and it's an honor to be on the ice with these guys,” Strome said. “But obviously I've got to keep working and I want to be on this team full-time eventually, so it's a good first step.”
Nelson, who made his NHL debut during the 2013 playoffs, could play center or wing at the NHL level. The 2010 first round pick will get a chance to impress the coaching staff and earn a full-time spot with the Islanders.
“It's good to have versatility,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “At North Dakota he played the wing and had good point production. At Bridgeport he played center. With (Cal) Clutterbuck out, we've got some decisions we have to make. He's going to get an opportunity here moving forward and we'll get to see what he looks like on the wing.”
Nelson, who has one year of professional hockey under his belt with AHL Bridgeport, learned more about what it takes to compete night in, night out at the pro level.
“I got bigger and that translates into more on the ice,” Nelson said. “That's something I've focused on the last couple of summers and that’s the main thing I continue to work on.”
With limited spots available on the Islanders opening night roster, Sundstrom is doing everything he can to make the coaches’ decision difficult when it comes time to cut the rosters down.
“I try to be that guy that has a high compete level, wins faceoffs and is great in the locker room and on the ice,” Sundstrom said. “I think my form so far has been pretty good. The coaching staff and the GM are pretty happy. I'm not going to change anything. I just need to be the same guy on the ice and keep working hard.”
Strome, who appeared on the Islanders roster in 2011-12 but was sent back to juniors before playing a game, was also at camp last season before being cut. The fifth overall pick in 2011 believes his game has come a long way since his first NHL camp.
“Looking back I think I may have been farther away than I thought,” Strome said. “Last year I thought I could have made the jump, but with the short camp I could understand the situation. This year I think I'm definitely ready. I had 10 games in Bridgeport last spring; I felt good and I've felt good this preseason. I just have to show the coaches that I'm ready.”
While the squad changes may have been a vote of confidence from Capuano, the head coach noted that he wants to see more from his young players trying to earn a spot.
“They still have some things they need to learn,” Capuano said. “Strength is one of them when you first jump into this league. It's just continuing to battle and win those 50-50 puck battles. This game comes down to battle level and how you play. A lot of times it's how you compete and your willingness to win. With those guys it's good, but it could be better.”
The Islanders will have two more days of practice before their only preseason tilt at the Coliseum, Friday, Sept. 27 against the Nashville Predators. After that, a split-squad contest on Sept. 29 against Ottawa is the only thing standing between the Islanders and the regular season opener.