Isles Files

Your source for behind-the-scenes New York Islanders hockey news and information.

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Arthur Staple

Arthur Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, college sports, baseball, hockey and football.

Islanders' Mikhail Grabovski will miss time with concussion

Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after
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Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after allowing a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.(Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar)

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PITTSBURGH - Mikhail Grabovski has a concussion.

He had passed concussion testing on Thursday night after leaving the Islanders' game against the Sharks in the first period following a thunderous, legal hit from John Scott.

But Grabovski awoke Friday morning with concussion symptoms, according to general manager Garth Snow, and now the concussion protocols are in place. He won't be evaluated again until Monday at the earliest and it will be several days until Grabovski can return to the ice.

Snow decided not to call anyone up from Bridgeport for last night's game, going with veteran Colin McDonald and a juggled line structure to replace Grabovski, who had two goals and an assist in the first four games.

Bridgeport had games on Friday, Saturday night and Sunday night, so after the weekend, the Islanders might make a move.

Crosby praises pals

Sidney Crosby and John Tavares share an agency (CAA) and have shared offseason workouts since Tavares joined the Islanders five years ago.

Kyle Okposo has joined those two stars plus a handful of other NHL players in summer workouts, particularly with Darryl Belfry, a skills coach who boasts an impressive list of clients.

Crosby said Saturday morning that he isn't surprised at what Tavares, Okposo and the Islanders have done so far this season.

"They work so hard and want to get better," Crosby said of Tavares and Okposo. "Just with that mentality, it's just a matter of time. And it's clear they've gotten better each year . . . It's only a matter of time to see some of the success they've had so far."

McDonald determined

Colin McDonald felt he'd established himself as an NHL regular two seasons ago when he contributed 17 points in 45 games and another three points in the playoffs for the Isles, earning a two-year contract.

But the 30-year-old didn't crack the lineup until Saturday night, and that only because of Grabovski's concussion.

"It's human nature to think about different things when you're not playing, but I felt like I had a great camp and the coaches said they were happy with me," McDonald said. "I knew I'd get a chance at some point, so you just have to grab it when you can."

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Islanders fall to Penguins' power-play goals

Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after
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Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after allowing a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.(Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar)

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PITTSBURGH - They had to lose sometime. But after the Islanders opened the season with four wins, their first loss -- 3-1 to the Penguins Saturday night -- stung a bit more because of the many missed opportunities in a feisty game.

The Isles entered the game with the second-best power play in the league, and the Penguins had the worst penalty kill. But the Islanders didn't convert on any of their seven power-play chances, including 1:26 of five-on-three time in the second period while holding a 1-0 lead.

The Penguins converted their two-man advantage soon after, scoring on both ends of those two power plays to take the lead and keep it.

"We just weren't as crisp as we've been on the power play," John Tavares said after being held off the scoresheet for the first time this season. "For whatever reason, we weren't sharp."

Even with those failures, particularly on that lengthy five-on-three, the Isles were in good position as the second period wore on.

Thomas Hickey's rush into the play and neatly placed wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder at 5:46 of the first period had given them the lead. Jaroslav Halak was sharp, as were the Islanders despite being hemmed in by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company for long stretches.

"I thought we were playing pretty good," said Halak, who finished with 35 saves.

They were -- until a borderline call on Cory Conacher against Crosby with 7:04 left in the second, followed by a borderline too-many-men call during the penalty kill. Cal Clutterbuck intercepted a pass at center ice just as Nikolay Kulemin reached the bench, a penalty that is rarely called when a player is a few feet from leaving the ice.

Malkin snapped a wrist shot through traffic to tie the score at 13:49 and his slapper was deflected past Halak by Patric Hornqvist 55 seconds later, marking the third time in five games that the Islanders have allowed two power-play goals.

"If you look back and see our record when we don't convert a five-on-three, it's not very good," coach Jack Capuano said.

He did have praise for Travis Hamonic, who missed the final 15:37 of the game after taking 17 penalty minutes when he initiated a fight with Steve Downie, who had flown in and leveled Frans Nielsen in the corner of the Islanders' zone. Losing Hamonic for the bulk of the third period in a one-goal game forced plenty of scrambling.

"I support that all day long," Capuano said. "I hope we have more guys to step up if it happens again."

That Downie hit followed a bizarre sequence in the final seconds of the middle period. Crosby, who took a hooking minor earlier, clipped legs with Halak behind the Islanders' net. Halak was incensed that there was no penalty call and exchanged words with Crosby after the horn, which prompted Hamonic to deliver a bump to the Penguins' captain and started more words with Downie.

"No," Halak said when asked if Crosby was apologizing for the clip. "I don't want to comment, but I think it should've been a penalty."

The two teams have four more games this season and their history is intense, even in recent seasons, when the Penguins have been far more successful. Saturday night's game snapped the Islanders' perfect start, but they hardly feel they're out of Pittsburgh's league anymore.

"We had our chances," Tavares said. "There's just some little things we need to be better at."

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Ryan Strome responds well to Isles coach Jack Capuano's new approach

New York Islanders No. 18 Ryan Strome shoots

New York Islanders No. 18 Ryan Strome shoots on goal during the Group A session of team training camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, September 20, 2014. (Credit: James Escher)

PITTSBURGH - Jack Capuano has been loath to call out his players in public during his four-plus seasons as Islanders coach, particularly in singling out anyone for criticism.

He benched Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey for a game during their lengthy scoring slumps last season, but he privately and publicly encouraged both players during the bulk of their struggles.

In the past, questions about the team's shaky goaltending usually were met with prompts to discuss the situation with Mike Dunham, the team's goaltending coach.

But this season, Capuano has been noticeably more pointed in his public comments. With an influx of veterans via free agency and trade, Capuano might believe it no longer is necessary to protect his players; rather, with expectations higher, the gloves can come off when discussing certain Islanders.

Ryan Strome may be the one Islander who's been discussed the most, in positive and negative ways. After only a few days of camp, Capuano didn't hesitate to name Strome as someone who needed to improve his effort and attentiveness.

That the 21-year-old responded strongly enough to earn a roster spot would indicate that Capuano's approach is working.

"It doesn't bother me at all, because I know the coaching staff wants to get the best out of me and so do I," Strome said. "Anything that's said, good or bad, is designed to help me be the best I can be. I take it all as helpful advice."

After ringing up his second two-assist game in the first three at Madison Square Garden, Strome might have expected to hear praise from Capuano. But Strome's line, with Mikhail Grabovski and Brock Nelson, turned the puck over too much and allowed the Rangers to generate a few scoring chances.

"I thought he was average," Capuano said of Strome that night.

Capuano is known as a superstitious fellow. Perhaps he'll wait until the Isles lose a game to start praising his players.

 

Extra bodies on the penalty kill

Capuano and assistant coach Greg Cronin, who runs the penalty-killing unit, made a small change after the Isles gave up four power-play goals in the first two games against the Hurricanes. They added two forwards to the PK rotation, creating three two-man forward units instead of two.

In an attempt to keep the forwards fresher, Josh Bailey and Nikolay Kulemin joined Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Frans Nielsen and Brock Nelson.

"The goal is to get the puck out, get your 15, 20 seconds on the ice and get off," Clutterbuck said. "You don't want to get trapped out there, but this way, maybe if you are on for a few extra seconds, you're not as gassed."

It worked against the Rangers somewhat. The Islanders still surrendered eight shots in three Rangers power plays but had their first clean PK sheet of the season.

The Sharks converted their only power play Thursday night and needed exactly seven seconds to do so, leaving the Isles at 61.5 percent (8-for-13) entering Saturday night's game, better only than that night's opponent, the Penguins.

"We've had some bad first PKs and then we've gotten better as the games have gone on," Clutterbuck said. "We need to be better from the start."

 

Offense from defense

Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have done more than could be expected through the early portion of the season. Each scored two goals in the first four games to give the Islanders an aspect of their offensive game they haven't had in a decade: two legitimate offensive threats from the blue line.

Mark Streit is the last Islander defenseman to score more than 10 goals, netting 11 in 2009-10. The team's defensemen totaled 23 goals last season.

The Leddy-Boychuk combination is reminiscent of the Roman Hamrlik-Adrian Aucoin tandem, which totaled 23 goals in 2001-02, the last time the Isles had two defensemen with double-digit goals in a season.

That also was the last time the Islanders started a season 4-0-0.

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Report: Islanders' sale price is $485 million

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the team's move to the Barclays Center in 2015 at a press conference. (Oct. 24, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH - A Forbes website report published Friday pegged the Islanders' purchase price at $485 million.

A team spokesman would not comment on the story detailing the transaction price of the August sale of the team by Charles Wang to Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin, who will be introduced as minority owners at a news conference next week.

Ledecky, a one-time co-owner of the Capitals, and Malkin, a London-based investor, bought the team two months ago after Wang engaged in protracted negotiations with Andrew Barroway, a Philadelphia-based wealth manager.

In a lawsuit filed two weeks before the completed sale, Barroway alleged that Wang backed out of a handshake agreement to sell the Islanders to a group of investors led by Barroway for $420 million. Barroway's suit contended that Wang sought $548 million for the team in June, causing negotiations to end.

Barroway completed a deal to buy 51 percent of the Arizona Coyotes last week and dropped his suit against Wang.

Ledecky and Malkin will own a minority share of the Islanders for this season and next, the team's first at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wang then will become the minority shareholder starting in the 2016-17 season.

Wang bought the Islanders in 2000 along with fellow Computer Associates executive Sanjay Kumar for $187.5 million and Wang assumed sole ownership in 2004.

The Islanders are off to a 4-0 start, their best since 2001.

Notes & quotes: Mikhail Grabovski, who left Thursday night's 4-3 shootout win over the Sharks in the first period after taking a big hit from John Scott, is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, though it is not believed to be a concussion. Colin McDonald likely will make his season debut against the Penguins on Saturday night in Grabovski's place.

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Islanders' sale price is $485 million, Forbes says

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the team's move to the Barclays Center in 2015 at a press conference. (Oct. 24, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Travel deals

PITTSBURGH - A Forbes website report published Friday pegged the Islanders' purchase price at $485 million.

A team spokesman would not comment on the story detailing the transaction price of the August sale of the team by Charles Wang to Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin, who will be introduced as minority owners at a news conference next week.

Ledecky, a one-time co-owner of the Capitals, and Malkin, a London-based investor, bought the team two months ago after Wang engaged in protracted negotiations with Andrew Barroway, a Philadelphia-based wealth manager.

In a lawsuit filed two weeks before the completed sale, Barroway alleged that Wang backed out of a handshake agreement to sell the Islanders to a group of investors led by Barroway for $420 million. Barroway's suit contended that Wang sought $548 million for the team in June, causing negotiations to end.

Barroway completed a deal to buy 51 percent of the Arizona Coyotes last week and dropped his suit against Wang.

Ledecky and Malkin will own a minority share of the Islanders for this season and next, the team's first at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wang then will become the minority shareholder starting in the 2016-17 season.

Wang bought the Islanders in 2000 along with fellow Computer Associates executive Sanjay Kumar for $187.5 million and Wang assumed sole ownership in 2004.

The Islanders are off to a 4-0 start, their best since 2001.

Notes & quotes: Mikhail Grabovski, who left Thursday night's 4-3 shootout win over the Sharks in the first period after taking a big hit from John Scott, is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, though it is not believed to be a concussion. Colin McDonald likely will make his season debut against the Penguins on Saturday night in Grabovski's place.

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Isles' Calvin de Haan returns from injury

New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan skates

New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan skates during Group C training camp at Nassau Coliseum on Friday, September 19, 2014. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Calvin de Haan didn't know what to expect in his season debut Thursday night, but he was happy to be making it. An upper-body injury sidelined de Haan through the second half of the preseason and the first week of the regular season, throwing a wrench into the Islanders' plans on defense.

The acquisitions of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk while de Haan was out helped ease the loss, but de Haan's return allowed the team to send Griffin Reinhart to Bridgeport, where the 20-year-old rookie will get bigger minutes and a bigger role.

"I'm sure it'll take a bit to get my timing back," de Haan said after the morning skate and before he knew if he'd be playing. "Practices and games are very different, obviously. But the goal is the same: Keep it simple, play smart and keep the puck out of our net."

Jack Capuano had praise for Reinhart, who had some ups and downs in his first three NHL games on a defense pair with Brian Strait.

"He's a real poised individual," Capuano said. "I've been pleased with the way he's played. The pace of the game is something he'll have to adjust to."

De Haan was paired with Strait, with Strait moving to the right side.

Visnovsky gets closer

Lubomir Visnovsky skated with his teammates, the first time he's done that since hobbling off the ice two weeks ago with back spasms. The 38-year-old defenseman said he's pain-free now.

When Visnovsky returns -- likely next week -- the Isles will have to make a move. There is no defenseman left on the roster who is waiver-exempt. Matt Donovan is a likely candidate who will have to pass through waivers to be sent down.

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John Tavares' goal in shootout keeps Islanders undefeated

Jaroslav Halak #41 and Brian Strait #37 of
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Jaroslav Halak #41 and Brian Strait #37 of the Islanders defend the net in the first period against Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks during a game at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.(Credit: Jim McIsaac)

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The Islanders put forth their best 60-minute effort of the season Thursday night. So naturally it took 65 minutes plus a five-round shootout for them to remain perfect.

John Tavares converted in the fifth round of the shootout and Jaroslav Halak stopped Joe Thornton for a rousing 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks that got the Islanders to 4-0 for only the third time in their 43-year history.

That it came against a Sharks team that also was 3-0 -- and owned a bit more recent playoff pedigree -- made these two points a bit sweeter.

"It's important to learn how to win these games, play these kinds of games, because they're the most fun," said Tavares, who had two assists to give him nine points in four games. "You've just got to stay composed and stay focused on doing the things that bring you success."

For the Islanders, that was continuing to pour pressure and shots on the Sharks despite trailing 2-1 after two periods. San Jose grabbed the lead 9:14 into the second, but the Isles held a 28-11 shot edge through two periods despite losing Mikhail Grabovski to an upper-body injury after a big, legal hit by Sharks enforcer John Scott midway through the first period.

Word after the game was that Grabovski, who had to be helped to the dressing room, does not have a suspected concussion but will be looked at on Friday.

"It was basically just the next three guys on the bench over the boards. We didn't have lines," Frans Nielsen said. "But we played the whole rest of the first in their end."

Into the third, the Isles got a break when Brent Burns, who scored the Sharks' first goal and assisted on their second, broke his stick and tossed the puck into the San Jose bench for a delay-of-game penalty.

Nielsen and Tavares played give-and-go to gain the Sharks' zone with speed and space. Nielsen fed Kyle Okposo for a quick shot under Alex Stalock and the score was tied.

Just 2:41 later, Josh Bailey made a nifty play to grab a rebound with his glove out of midair, drop it, turn and snap a shot past Stalock to put the Islanders in front. Young Sharks star Tomas Hertl tied it just 2:38 after that, but the Isles didn't let up.

"We didn't let up the whole 60," Okposo said. "It didn't matter what the scoreboard said, we kept coming."

Stalock finished with 42 saves and Halak, who allowed three goals on 16 shots in regulation, came up big with seven saves in overtime as the Sharks pressed the attack for the first time all night.

The shootout might hold small meaning in the big picture, but the Isles and the 11,248 at the Coliseum definitely wanted the bonus point to keep this season-opening run going into Pittsburgh on Saturday.

With New Jersey losing to Washington Thursday night, the undefeated Islanders now sit atop the Metropolitan Division standings and are tied with once-beaten Montreal atop the Eastern Conference.

"We're not going to get too carried away. There's 78 games to go," Bailey said. "But it's another step in the right direction for sure."

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Natural centers Nelson, Strome, Grabovski form formidable line for Islanders

The Islanders celebrate a goal by Brock Nelson,

The Islanders celebrate a goal by Brock Nelson, left, at 4:50 of the third period against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 14, 2014 at Madison Square Garden. Joining Nelson from left to right are Travis Hamonic #3, Ryan Strome #18, Thomas Hickey #14 and Mikhail Grabovski #84. (Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett)

Brock Nelson is getting plenty of attention for his hot start to the season. His four goals lead the Islanders through three games, though two of those were off his right leg and from the stick of Johnny Boychuk. Nelson's seven points are tied with John Tavares for most on the team.

The bigger revelation has been Nelson's work with his linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Ryan Strome. The three natural centers were put together by Jack Capuano for the final week of practice before Friday's opener in Raleigh. They've scored a couple of notable goals, in that Friday opener and on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, created with speed and good puck movement below the opposing goal line.

"We need to sustain that pressure, so I think each of us has more to give," said Strome, who has four assists in three games, three of which were the primary assist on his linemates' goals. "Grabo is so good coming out of the corner, Brock gives you that big body in front and I think I have some creativity so it's looked good at times. But we need to do more and show more below the goal line."

Nothing has been perfect except the Isles' record thus far and they get their biggest test Thursday night when the Sharks, also 3-0 to start this season, come to Nassau Coliseum. San Jose has quick defensemen and an array of talent up front and the Isles, particularly Nelson's line, will have to keep possession effectively and keep the play in the Sharks end.

"They're similar players, they've got some skill," Capuano said. "We had a couple turnovers with that line, they were on for five chances against [on Tuesday], so they have to make sure they channel it in the right way."

Capuano experimented during training camp, trying all three players on that line at center and wing to find a fit on a roster laden with centers. Grabovski played some wing with the Caps last season and Strome played some wing at the end of his rookie season with the Isles. The ultimate decision was that Nelson had a very strong camp at center, which he clearly has continued.

"We help each other, doesn't matter where we play," Grabovski said. "We have offensive players who can make play, Nelson is great guy in own zone and it's easy to trust him."

Notes & quotes: Calvin de Haan (upper body) practiced fully again Wednesday and could be ready to make his season debut against San Jose. D Lubomir Visnovsky (back) skated on his own for a third consecutive day as he slowly progresses toward a return.

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For Jack Capuano, 3-0 Islanders are far from perfect

The New York Islanders won their third straight game to open the season, beating the New York Rangers, 6-3, at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 14, 2014, in the first of five meetings between the two teams this season. (Credit: Newsday)

Satisfying? Sure. Satisfied? Let's just say Jack Capuano isn't quite letting his Islanders think their 6-3 win over the Rangers at the Garden last night and the Isles' first 3-0-0 start since 2001 is anything special.

"I shouldn't have to come into the room and say the things I did after the second period," Capuano said. "I'm pleased they responded, but we have to make sure there's some consistency to our focus."

There wasn't a whole lot of consistency to the Isles' game, despite the four-goal outburst in the first half of the third period. They were outshot 32-20 after two periods, including 21-8 in a second period that belonged to Jaroslav Halak and included quite a bit of hands-off play in the Islanders' zone.

But the Isles were tied thanks to Halak and a late turnover deep in the Rangers' zone that was converted by John Tavares -- similar to the early third-period turnover that Kyle Okposo converted for his 100th NHL goal to open the floodgates.

"You know, they came in with two losses in a row, so we knew they were going to be mad," Halak said. "They played good hockey the first two periods."

It's hard to say what this three-win start has been for the Isles, who kept the Rangers off the scoresheet on the power play but still had too many breakdowns and too little hard forecheck for the bulk of the game. Has it been strangely perfect or perfectly strange?

Far from perfect is how the coaches view it.

"This was the first game we generated any offense five-on-five," Capuano said. "I came in after the second and asked the other coaches, 'Where are we gonna get our scoring? Do we need to change the lines?' We finally started to grind it out."

With a 3-2 lead in the third, Travis Hamonic threw a hard dump-in around the boards that Henrik Lundqvist couldn't handle. Mikhail Grabovski did, beating John Moore to the puck and sending it back around to Ryan Strome. Strome fed Brock Nelson alone in the slot and the Isles were off and running, with Grabovski's pass deflecting off Kevin Klein's stick and in just 30 seconds later.

"It was kind of a surprise," Johnny Boychuk said. "We really had to wake up there. We weren't playing our game. Jaro made some big saves the first two periods and gave us a chance."

Capuano said the same, telling his players after the second that they weren't playing "Islander hockey." Truth be told, they haven't done that for some longish swaths of the first three games, but the explosiveness on offense and the steadiness in goal has covered up deficiencies that have plagued the Isles for the past few seasons.

"We have guys who play their roles well," Hamonic said. "It's definitely the best offense we've had since I've been here."

Perhaps the key feeling inside the locker room is that 3-0-0 looks good, but there's more work to be done.

"We got some bounces and it wasn't pretty," Halak said, "but it's a win. We'll take it."

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Introduction of new Islanders owners postponed

Jonathan Ledecky, left, and Scott D. Malkin.

Jonathan Ledecky, left, and Scott D. Malkin. (Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Getty Images / Daniel Berehulak)

The scheduled news conference to officially introduce new Islanders minority owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin was postponed from Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict with one of the men (not identified) who have purchased a share of the team from Charles Wang.

The public unveiling will likely take place in the next week or two, according to the team. There is no issue with the sale, which has already been completed and approved by the NHL's Board of Governors.

Ledecky, a former co-owner of the Capitals, and Malkin, a London-based investor, agreed to purchase a share of the Islanders from Wang in August. They will be minority owners for this season and next before taking over a majority interest in the 2016-17 season.

Lineup remains the same

Jack Capuano is loath to change when things are going well, so he kept the same three healthy scratches as the first two games: forwards Eric Boulton and Colin McDonald and defenseman Matt Donovan.

But changes could be coming soon. Calvin de Haan skated with his teammates yesterday morning, the second straight practice he's had with the full group since suffering an upper-body injury the first week of training camp.

De Haan was projected as one of the Isles' top four defensemen before the injury, which was also before the acquisition of veterans Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. If de Haan is ready to come off injured reserve for tomorrow's game with the Sharks at Nassau Coliseum, rookie Griffin Reinhart may be the odd man out and headed to Bridgeport.

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