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Young players to receive another look

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Making the Islanders roster this season will not be easy. In General Manager Garth Snow’s tenure, he has rebuilt the organizational depth from the ground up, choosing new talent wisely from the NHL Entry Draft and then developing many of those players in the American Hockey League before they reach their first regular season game on Nassau Coliseum ice.

Now, the team is at a juncture where the depth of the franchise is at an all-time high which will make narrowing the Islanders roster to 23 players more difficult than it has been in the past. The Islanders have 20 players in Calgary to play in the team’s third exhibition game of the 2011 preseason Tuesday night, with the majority of them looking to break into the NHL.

Matt Donovan skates against the Boston Bruins during a rookie game exhibition at Nassau Coliseum on September 12, 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A bulk of that roster played in the Islanders first exhibition game against the Boston Bruins on Friday night, then returned to Long Island to watch their teammates defeat the New Jersey Devils 6-2 the following night.

“I think if you’re a young guy, or somebody who comes to this camp, you start to look back,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “If you played in Boston and then came and watched the New Jersey game at home, you start to realize there are some pretty good players, so you start to sit back and (evaluate and question) ‘where am I going to fit in?’”

Capuano stated that he plans to divide the remaining 50 players at training camp into a roster that will look much closer to the lineup the club will showcase on opening night October 8. When choosing his final roster, Capuano said he’s looking for players with “The will to win and the will to compete.”

He added, “Structurally, systematically they are going to do the right things and play within the team concept because they are smart enough to do that and adjust when we adjust. Right now we are trying to find where guys fit in the roles on the hockey team. Everyone has a role, whether it’s five-on-five, power play or PK, so we are trying to figure out the pieces of that puzzle.”

But Capuano isn’t willing to rush a player’s development to get him into the NHL. He wants to make sure he’s not pushing any player that could benefit from time spent back with their junior club or playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League.

“You can actually hurt a player’s development throwing him into the National Hockey League versus giving him the experience and the minutes that he needs in the American Hockey League,” Capuano said. “I won’t change my opinion on that.”

Defenseman Milan Jurcina is one of the few players in Tuesday night’s lineup that is considered a veteran and he had some advice for the younger players looking to break into the league.

“You can’t really put that much pressure on yourself, you have to go out there and have fun, play whatever you do on the ice and show your best,” Jurcina said. “Coaches know what your style of hockey is and what they expect of you. You just have to go out and execute, you can’t put that much pressure on yourself especially for younger guys.”

Rhett Rakhshani skates during an NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Nassau Coliseum on January 11, 2011. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
One of the rookies looking to crack the Islanders this season is Rhett Rakhshani.

“I want to show confidence, speed and skill, offensive playmaking and bring some sort of dynamic that the team doesn’t have, but ultimately help them,” Rakhshani said. “That’s the most important thing, so I’ll do anything I can to help them do that.”

In his first pro campaign, spent with the Sound Tigers, Rakhshani led the team in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62). That breakout year caught Capuano’s attention and he was hoping to see more of the winger at camp, but due to a concussion, Tuesday night’s exhibition will be the first time the coaching staff gets to see Rakhshani in game action.

“Rhett was one of the guys that had a tremendous year last year in Bridgeport and had wanted to take a close look at,” Capuano said. “The fact that he’s back from his head injury and is getting a chance in Calgary is good for the team on the ice as well as the coaching staff to see his progression the rest of the way.”

As for having this setback, Rakhshani was positive and said, “I think it’s a good test and something I can learn to persevere through and come back stronger.”

As Rakhshani sets out to prove he deserves a spot on the opening night roster, he will join various other young prospects looking to impress the coaching staff.

Notes: Rookie forward Kirill Kabanov and veteran center Marty Reasoner will make their preseason exhibition debut Tuesday night. Evgeni Nabokov will get the start in net and will play most of the game, but Mikko Koskinen will also see time.
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