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Top prospects eager to join re-energized Islanders

by Arpon Basu

These are exciting times, on several fronts, for the New York Islanders.

The Islanders are leaving the only home they have ever known, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, to begin play this season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the timing could not be much better.

After years of struggling near the bottom of the NHL standings, the Islanders appear on the cusp of becoming one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. And those difficult years of losing are also looking like they are about to pay off.

In addition to the young talent already dotting the Islanders roster, led by captain John Tavares, 24, the organization is rich in high-end prospects looking to make the jump to the League.

Leading the way are center Mathew Barzal (No. 16 pick, 2015 NHL Draft), left wing Michael Dal Colle (No. 5, 2014), right wing Joshua Ho-Sang (No. 28, 2014), defenseman Ryan Pulock (No. 15, 2013), left wing Anthony Beauvillier (No. 28, 2015) and defenseman Mitchell Vande Sompel (No. 82, 2015).

The glut of talent should make for an interesting and competitive training camp.

"They have a ton of great prospects in their system right now," Dal Colle said this week at the NHL Players' Association Rookie Showcase. "But the reality of it coming into camp is you've got to try to knock someone off and try to steal one of those jobs. You've got to go in thinking about yourself, not being selfish but putting yourself in the best position to play.

"I know in New York we're really deep, I mean Ho-Sang, Barzal, Pulock, so many guys that are in the system and are going to be really good in a few years."

The prospects got a taste of what life will be like for the Islanders in the fall when they played the annual Blue and White scrimmage at Barclays Center during development camp July 8. The idea of being part of the first Islanders team to play there is an added enticement for Dal Colle to make the Islanders out of training camp.

"The rink's pretty sweet. It's unique," he said. "It's built for basketball so it kind of has a different feel, but the fans are right over top of you. We had a ton of fans even for a rookie orientation game. The opener in Brooklyn's going to be pretty sweet and hopefully I can be a part of that."

The Islanders prospect group is heavy on forwards, but the one with the best chance of making the jump this season might be Pulock. A 6-foot-2, 214-pound defenseman with a booming right-hand shot, Pulock, 20, is known for his offensive abilities, as he showed by scoring 17 goals in 54 games in his rookie season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

But he says he will need to show that he can play in his own end in order to make the Islanders.

"I've just got to play my game; help out offensively, help out the power play, that sort of thing. I also have to be reliable defensively," Pulock said at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase. "That's an area of my game I've been trying to improve the past few years and an area of my game that has improved. But I need to keep working on that to be an elite two-way player in the League, and that's what they want from me.

"If my offense is there and I'm not making any mistakes defensively, that's good for me. Just being reliable defensively and being someone they can trust at any point in the game is probably the biggest thing for me."

Dal Colle, 19, is taking a similar approach to training camp, though his challenge is greater than Pulock as the 6-3, 194-pound left wing attempts to make the jump straight from the Ontario Hockey League to the NHL after scoring 42 goals and 93 points in 56 games with the Oshawa Generals last season.

"I've got to show them I can play both sides of the ice," Dal Colle said. "Offensively, it's always been my strong point. But defensively and my play away from the puck is what I'm going to have to work on. At camp and hopefully in some preseason games I need to show them that I'm able to play and compete against bigger guys."

Dal Colle said he did some power skating with Tavares last week. It's not a regular thing for the two Toronto-area natives to skate together, but it shows the commitment Tavares has made to serve as a mentor for the Islanders prospects trying to make their way up the ranks.

"After I was drafted he was the first one to call me," Dal Colle said. "I was actually really stoked I got drafted there because he's such a good role model for all of us. He does things the right way and he's a local guy as well. Hopefully I can play alongside him one day."

As the Islanders embark on a journey they hope will culminate with the organization's fifth Stanley Cup championship in the coming years, and play in a new home for the first time since entering the NHL in 1972, Dal Colle is eager to jump on board that train.

"Last year New York had a great team, I think that was the first year they really made that upward push to be a top team in the East," he said. "With all these prospects coming in I think New York can do a lot of damage in the next few years. I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Dal Colle paused for a second, then added, "Hopefully soon."

And after another pause, "Sooner rather than later."

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