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Islanders' kids give promising glimpse of future

by Adam Schwartz
The Edmonton Oilers' kid line of Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson now has some company as one of the youngest and most talented trios in the NHL, as Islanders coach Scott Gordon recently assembled a threesome of rookies Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo, and Blake Comeau, who is in his second full season.

Gordon put the line together Jan. 29, and the result was a 5-4 win in Atlanta, and a measure of success since then.

"I put them together during a road trip at about the halfway point of the season," Gordon said. "We thought it was a good opportunity to give our team a different look. If they can develop some chemistry now that they can carry over to next year, that's just going to put us in a better position next year. I think also it gives them the ability to play with people their own age that they can communicate with each other without the pressures of playing with the older guys. Some of the older guys may intimidate them just because they've been in the League for that much longer."

Gordon also feels each player brings their own dimension and skill set to the line, which makes for a good mix.

"Kyle is a good combination of skill, physical play and speed," Gordon said. "Josh has great vision and passing skills. Blake is a guy who, when he's playing well, he's physical, skating, and he's a guy that can get in on the forecheck and create room for both of those guys."

In their first 12 games together, Okposo had 5 goals and 7 points, while Bailey had 4 assists and 5 points, and Comeau has 5 assists, including a current three-game point streak. The Isles are a respectable 5-6-1 in that span.

Bailey, the club's first pick (No. 9) in the 2008 Entry Draft, is just 19; Okposo, the team's first pick in 2006 (No. 7) is 20. At 23, Comeau is the veteran. 

"It's pretty weird to think that I'm the oldest guy on the line," Comeau said. "But I don't think of who is older and who's younger. We all hang out, we all talk to each other off and on the ice, so it's worked pretty well so far."

Bailey and Okposo are roommates, and they get along off the ice as well as on it.

"Me and Bailey live together off the ice, which is going well," Okposo said. "He is a good roommate and we have a lot of fun together. When we get away from the rink it's time to be away from the rink and away from the game. We have fun playing video games and stuff like that."

While Comeau doesn't live with his linemates, the three are together often, which makes for a good relationship between the trio.

"It's awesome because we are pretty good buddies off the ice so that makes it easy to gel with them on the ice," Comeau said. "Kyle is a shooter and Josh is a good player that works hard to get the puck and he has really good vision on the ice. So far things have gone well for us and we want to keep them going."

While the Islanders aren't playoff bound this season, Comeau recognizes the value in developing chemistry with his linemates.

"Any time you can play with someone for an extended period of time you get to know where they like to be on the ice and stuff like that," Comeau said. "We are trying to work hard and help this team win. We are trying to stick together and get some chemistry between us."

Bailey was a surprise addition to the opening-night roster, but didn't make his debut until Nov. 11 due to a lower-body injury. Bailey has gotten acclimated to playing with the Islanders since being inserted into the lineup and has 14 assists and 16 points in 45 games.

"I think when Bailey initially came back from the injury he didn't know what was going to happen," Gordon said. "But we had to evaluate where he was at. We had to see if he could handle the adjustment to the NHL game and we felt he did and that's why we decided to keep him."  

Bailey realized the challenge he faced coming back from an injury early in the season.

"Coming back from the injury was tough," he said. "When I was hurt right away I didn't get a chance to play. It was definitely a bit of a down time and I wasn't around the guys a whole lot when I was hurt, so that was tough. Coming back, however, was fun. It was nice to get the first game out of the way and it just kind of snowballs off of that. You get more comfortable as the year goes on."

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