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Boychuk, Leddy heighten expectations for Islanders

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- There was a feeling of optimism on the ice at Nassau Coliseum on Monday, perhaps an ever greater feeling than when the New York Islanders opened training camp less than three weeks ago.

Already expected to vie for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, the Islanders bolstered their chances Saturday when they acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. The newest Islanders practiced for the first time Monday and afterward expressed their excitement of helping New York take that long awaited next step.

"Holy mackerel," Boychuk said as he entered the dressing room after practice to a horde of reporters eager to get his response to the trade that sent two second-round draft picks and a conditional third-round draft pick to the Boston Bruins.

"So far so good," Boychuk said. "It was a nice welcoming. Everybody came up and was friendly, and so far it's been a good transition.

"It was a quick pack, but it's an easy move because it's only a four-hour drive so it wasn't too bad. It'll be a good test for us come Friday [against the Carolina Hurricanes in the season opener]."

Boychuk skated alongside Leddy on Monday, a pairing that likely will stay together when the Islanders open the season Friday. But the next few days will not be about just learning systems; it also will be a time to get adjusted to new surroundings.

"We came to the rink together this morning and you get to know him pretty good," Boychuk said of Leddy. "It seems easier with another guy coming in as well."

"I know that I'm going to be having a bigger role here than what it was in Boston. I'm up for the challenge and I can't wait get to get in front of these fans."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he expects Boychuk and Leddy to alleviate some of the minutes defensemen Travis Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey have been asked to play in the past. For Leddy, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013, the Islanders present an opportunity to quarterback their top power-play unit and to prove he can be a full-time top-four NHL defenseman.

"That'd be great, but I also have to work for it," said Leddy, who was acquired along with goalie Kent Simpson in exchange for defensemen TJ Brennan, Ville Pokka and goalie Anders Nilsson. "You can't really expect anything; you have to work on it, work on things and get better every day."

"Both guys [are] great players. I'm pretty thrilled with the additions Garth [Snow, general manager] made," Hamonic said. "Really good moves. I don't know how he does it, but he had two good pickups. I think both guys bring something a little bit different to the table that we didn't necessarily have back there."

The Islanders enter the season without picks in the first or second round of the 2015 NHL Draft; their first- and second-round picks belong to the Buffalo Sabres from last season's trade for Thomas Vanek, and the second-round pick they acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers last season for Andrew MacDonald was sent to Boston to acquire Boychuk.

But the Islanders believe the time is now to become a contender. The acquisitions Saturday of Boychuk and Leddy, combined with the offseason signings of goaltender Jaroslav Halak and forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin, help make them one.

"We've always wanted to win," Capuano said. "You always try to make a deal that's going to be best for your hockey club, and it's not like Garth hasn't tried in the past. It wasn't there for us and you have to be smart with your young players. You're not going to sell the farm and give away some good young players just to get some quick fix. It worked out for us. Garth had the opportunity to make our team better and he did. You hate to see some guys go, but we've had a lot of draft picks and there are assets that we could move."

Boychuk, 30, was traded by the Bruins for some cap relief and he's set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. For now, though, his focus is on helping the Islanders get back to the playoffs.

"It's nice to be wanted," Boychuk said. "With us coming in here, it's going to be a good test for us personally to get used to the systems. It's not too difficult, but it'll be a good challenge, that's for sure, and we're up for it.

"There's good things that are happening. Now we've bolstered the defense and it's going to be a good team and there's good things that are going to happen."


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