“I’m expecting those (experienced) guys to challenge for a spot on this hockey team no different than the way Matt Moulson
did a couple of years back,” Capuano said. “I think that they realize they don’t want to be in the minors, they spent their time there and they want an opportunity. If they play well, they are going to get that opportunity.”Rhett Rakhshani
, Justin DiBenedetto
and Mark Katic
are some of those so called “experienced” prospects. Each of them has attended rookie camp at least three times. And over the last few years, all have become staple players for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
All of them were honored to be in the same category as Moulson.
“It shows that they are willing to take a young guy on the team,” Katic said. “Moulson came out of nowhere and scored 30 goals. I think there are a lot of guys in this room capable of having a breakout year like that. It’s just a matter of who has a better camp and gets that advantage and takes that opportunity.”
Rakhshani said, “It’s definitely a good thing for us. They’ve definitely shown that they give the young guys an opportunity and it’s just a matter of grasping it. Someone’s got to do it so hopefully the young guys start stepping up. I’m definitely hoping that I can be one of the guys that can do that this camp.”
DiBenedetto said, “He (Capuano) should be expecting a lot from the older guys (at camp). Personally, I’m going on my third year pro and I expect big things out of myself, too. So I’m going to go out and work hard.”
Rakhshani, a skilled winger, led the Sound Tigers in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62) last season as a rookie. DiBenedetto, a scrappy and pesky winger, ranked second on the Sound Tigers in goals scored with 19. Lastly, Katic, a smooth puck-moving blue-liner, led all Sound Tigers defensemen in scoring (30 points).
What these three players have in common is their NHL experience. All received call-ups from the Islanders last season, but all were returned to the Sound Tigers after a few short games. While they may not have stuck last year, each of them are hoping to implement what they’ve learned.
“Just being up with the NHL for those eleven games, it made me realize I can play at this level,” Katic said. “I just have to fine-tune a few things. It gives me more confidence on the ice, knowing I played in the NHL.”
He added, “You just have to reassure yourself that you can do it. The mental aspect of the game is 90 per cent of it. I’ve been trying to tell myself that I’m ready all summer so hopefully it works out.”
Rakhshani knows the mental aspect all too well.
“I think I've been my biggest enemy in some of the recent years because, for myself, I know what I can do, but sometimes I hold myself back from playing to my full potential,” Rakhshani said. “I want to go out there and play to my full potential and not be restricted by anything.”
Rakhshani’s time with the big club was limited to two games due to a concussion. He still took a lot from the experience.
“Now I know what to expect, and that it’s not too overwhelming,” Rakhshani said. “I’m good enough to play at the NHL level. Guys are a little faster and stronger (than in the AHL), but I’m definitely at that level and can play with any of them. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”
Even a physical player like DiBenedetto learned a few things.
“When I was up last year, I noticed how strong the defensemen were in front of the net compared to the AHL,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s something I wanted to focus on and I think I did that.”
These exhibition games against the Bruins will give all the prospects ample time to prove to management that they are worth a second look. For the more experienced players, it’s hopefully where they shed the “rookie” status.
“First impressions are important,” Katic said. “It’ll be great to make a good first impression if I play well, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m coming in here with an open mind. Obviously I want to make the team, that’s the ultimate goal. But if I get sent down, I want to be called up at some point in the year and stick and become a full-time NHLer.”
DiBenedetto and Rakhshani shared the same sentiment and put it plainly, “My goal is to make the New York Islanders.”
There’s no doubt these guys are talented. They were all drafted for a reason. But now is the time for each of them to break out and show why they deserve a spot on the Islanders roster.