So far, Islanders' pickups have picked them up

Keith Aucoin celebrates his goal against the Toronto

Keith Aucoin celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period of a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Jan. 24, 2013) (Credit: AP)

WINNIPEG -- Jack Capuano spent most of the lockout in the minors. He wasn't sent there by Garth Snow to keep his coaching skills fresh, even if Capuano did go behind the bench with Bridgeport a couple of times to see the team's prospects up close.

The Islanders' coach and assistant Brent Thompson became scouts of a sort, sizing up opposing AHL players for the possibility that some would shake free on waivers once the lockout ended and the sprint to assemble 23-man rosters for a 48-game season began.

"You're looking to see certain things: Can this guy fit? Is he a high-character guy who can adapt?" Capuano said. "We had a plan in mind."

The plan produced Keith Aucoin and Brian Strait, along with two other waiver pickups in Joe Finley and Thomas Hickey.

Aucoin is tied for the team lead with three goals in four games. Strait is playing second-pair defense minutes and getting compliments for his steady, reliable play.

This is not the plan that was executed by the Rangers or Flyers or any of the big-market, big-talent teams. The Islanders aren't going on wild spending sprees. But Snow and his staff are not acting in the manner of seasons gone by, when they rushed a few of the team's high draft picks and their bonus-heavy deals on to the NHL roster.

Performance bonuses do not count against the salary cap under the new collective-bargaining agreement, so plugging up a cap-floor shortage with someone such as Ryan Strome, the team's first-round pick in 2011, wasn't necessary or desirable.

The biggest need was on defense, where the Isles had three mainstays in Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic and Mark Streit, one free-agent addition in Matt Carkner and a lot of questions.

Enter Strait, who at 24 still is growing as a defenseman but could not crack the Penguins' top six.

"There's a lot to like in Brian's game," Capuano said, noting that Strait's stickwork to close the gap on opposing shooters is among the best that the Isles have on defense.

Snow has been searching for veteran stopgaps on defense for the past few years. There were guys like Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau and Milan Jurcina who never made a consistent impact, and guys like Steve Staios who were helpful but were asked to do too much.

With MacDonald and Hamonic emerging as a first pair, the Isles went looking for role players. Carkner was brought in last summer to add an imposing presence, which he displayed Thursday in Toronto, going after Dion Phaneuf after his hard hit on John Tavares.

"Guys want to play with someone like that," MacDonald said. "You see a new guy standing up for his teammate and it's a good feeling."

All together, there are 10 players on this Islanders team who didn't break 2011-12 training camp with the team. The new guys are far from stars, but that's not the point. Consistency from the core players and lack of contributions from the depth players have been the biggest woes.

It may not have been the way the top-revenue teams do it -- and seeing the struggles of the Rangers and Flyers thus far is a reminder that, in this short season, there may be no right way to do it -- but the Islanders did have a plan. One that has paid some dividends.

"All you can ask for is a chance to show what you can do," Aucoin said. "I've known Cappy and Brent for a long time. Maybe that helped."

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