The Islanders have needed depth on defense for years. Every team needs it, but perhaps none as much as the Isles, who have battled through waves of injuries like no other team the last few seasons, especially last season, when they were signing defensemen off the street to one-game tryouts down the stretch.
They haven't been that desperate this season, but the Islanders will enter a new phase Thursday night when one of their two top defense prospects makes his NHL debut.
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Steve Staios, whose play has been as steady and effective as any Islanders defenseman the last three weeks, is out indefinitely with a possible concussion suffered in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Canadiens.
Ness, a 2008 second-round pick who opened a lot of eyes with his play in training camp, has two goals and eight assists in 26 games with Bridgeport, and de Haan, the 12th overall pick in 2009, is 2-6-8 in 22 games.
"Calvin plays a really even-keel game, he never gets rattled," said Dylan Reese, who was part of the Bridgeport defense with Ness and de Haan until Reese was recalled to take MacDonald's spot two weeks ago.
"Nesser's big strength is his escapability -- he makes up for his size [5-10] with his ability to skate and move the puck. I thought he'd struggle more with that, but he's been great since day one."
Reese has been a decent example of the benefit of organizational depth.
He played 27 games with the Islanders last season and had a hard time with the physical side of NHL play, but the Isles injuries didn't allow him time to learn. When he came up Dec. 1, he looked like a player who had learned a bit more about what the team needed from him.
Either Ness, 21, or de Haan, 20, will have to learn on the job Thursday night.
"They have to get their feet wet sometime," Mark Streit said. "We saw what they could do in the preseason. I don't have concerns about either of those guys.
"For us, it's a matter of playing a better game overall than we did the last two. That means forechecking and moving the puck from our zone on out. That doesn't change no matter who's in the lineup."
Notes & quotes: G Evgeni Nabokov will have his groin injury evaluated Thursday and there's a chance he'll start Thursday night after missing a month. Nabokov said he wasn't sure if he felt good enough to play, but Jack Capuano said that he thought Al Montoya might be a bit tired. "He's been great for us," Capuano said, "but maybe there's a little fatigue there." . . . RW Nino Niederreiter (concussion) practiced Wednesday but still needs to get his conditioning back up to par before he can return to play.