NEWARK, N.J. -- New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he was asking for just one thing from rookies Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan on Friday at Prudential Center.
"To play like experienced guys," Capuano said Friday morning in advance of the Islanders' season opener against the New Jersey Devils.
Sounds like a lot, especially for a pair of rookies who between them have a total of four games of NHL experience and just one in nearly 18 months. Donovan played three games late in the 2011-12 season and Nelson made his NHL debut in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I know that those guys are going to make mistakes, and it's a game of mistakes, but I want them to play confident, I want them to play poised," Capuano said. "They're here to help us win hockey games. If we didn't think it was that situation then they wouldn't be here."
Donovan will open the game on the third defense pair with Brian Strait, while Nelson will be the third-line left wing, skating with Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
They are nervous, but excited.
"Obviously it was a long time ago [since I played an NHL game], two seasons ago, so nerves are still there, but I've built up the confidence from last year and I'm kind of riding off of that," Donovan told NHL.com. "Hopefully I can get those nerves out of the way pretty quick."
He'll have to because the Islanders envision Donovan as an offensive catalyst from the blue line, a vital role on the team now that former captain Mark Streit is playing with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Streit had 179 points in 286 games in four seasons with the Islanders. Donovan had 103 points in 147 games the past two seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.
"We need Donovan to get up in the play," Capuano said. "We need to create some offense from our blue line with Mark being gone, and he's a guy who has put up big numbers the last couple of years in Bridgeport. We're looking for some offense and we want him to get up in the play."
Nelson had 52 points in 66 games as a center with the Sound Tigers last season. It was his first professional season after playing two seasons as a left wing with the University of North Dakota (68 points in 84 games). He's back on the wing now, and the last thing Capuano wants to see is him playing it too safe. That was a problem Nelson had early in training camp, but it seems to be less of an issue now.
Nelson had four points in five preseason games.
"We had a little talk with him and I thought the last two preseason games you saw what he can do," Capuano said. "I see a guy that now is starting to gain a little bit of confidence in the offensive side of the game. We expect all our guys to play without the puck in all three zones and play a 200-foot game, but I think offense is starting to come for him."
Nelson said he's way more comfortable now than he was at the start of camp. He thinks it will help him get off on the right foot Friday.
"As the weeks passed I was able to settle in and relax and play," Nelson said. "That's something they tried to tell me as camp was going on. That helped quite a bit hearing that and relaxing out there. The game doesn't change. As levels go up guys are better, but the game stays the same. It's a simple game if you keep it simple and play hard."
The Islanders will go with Evgeni Nabokov in goal. Cal Clutterbuck (lacerated leg) skated Friday morning but remains on injured reserve.
Martin Brodeur is expected to make his season debut in goal after watching Cory Schneider give up three goals on 21 shots in a 3-0 loss Thursday at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils did not have a morning skate Friday, as New Jersey's scratches from Thursday (Mark Fayne, Rostislav Olesz, Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby) were the only Devils' skaters to practice Friday morning.
Here are the expected lineups for each team:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Josh Bailey
Brock Nelson - Peter Regin - Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky
Brian Strait - Matt Donovan
Scratched: Matt Carkner, Griffin Reinhart, Eric Boulton
Injured: Cal Clutterbuck (leg)
Ryane Clowe - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Dainius Zubrus - Andrei Loktionov - Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Scratched: Mark Fayne, Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, Rostislav Olesz