Travis Hamonic spent the playoffs last year watching someone skate in his place, obligated to stand idly by when his Islanders forced Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, only to see it all end when Evgeny Kuznetsov’s third-period top- shelfer advanced the Capitals to the next round.
It was, Hamonic said, “the most frustrating thing I’ve ever had to do.”
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So don’t expect him to be sitting idly by this year.
The Islanders do-everything defenseman missed the playoffs last year because of a torn MCL in his left knee, and looked destined for the same fate on March 31 after a knee-on-knee collision with the Blue Jackets’ Scott Hartnell.
But Hamonic, who sat out the remainder of the regular season, is acting like a man who expects to play this time around. He participated in a full, fast-paced practice at Iceworks in Syosset Tuesday, showed no outward signs of lag or discomfort and said he could be ready to go for Game 1 against the Panthers Thursday.
“Personally, I feel fine,” Hamonic said. “I’ve been skating here for a handful of days . . . It’s coach’s decision if they feel like I’m ready to go.”
Jack Capuano is understandably cautious, however. Hamonic leads the team in average time on ice and, along with Nick Leddy, is generally tasked with stopping the opponents’ biggest offensive threats. And with goalie Jaroslav Halak (groin) out for at least the early portion of the Florida series, any further injury to Hamonic could severely compromise the Islanders’ chances at winning a postseason series for the first time since 1993.
Capuano said he was open to the idea of Hamonic being ready in time for Thursday’s game, but that he would first have to be evaluated Wednesday before a decision is made.
“You don’t want to rush guys back,” Capuano said. “I want him to go through some agility drills and see how he feels, but he practiced today. So tomorrow, if he has a good day, it’s something that we’ll think about for Thursday.”
It’s clear his teammates can’t wait for his return. “It’ll be great to have him,” John Tavares said, adding that he “brings a lot of different elements that are very hard to replace.” Kyle Okposo said his return “will be big.”
“He’s a great player and we’re a better team when he’s on the ice,” he said. “If he’s all good for Game 1, it’s going to be a big pick-me-up.”
Hamonic had five goals and 16 assists this season, along with 44 takeaways, 128 even-strength blocked shots and 148 hits. He also has an unabashed eagerness to return as soon as he can, saying that he’s “pushing hard” to be ready, especially in light of what happened last year.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some déjà vu there,” Hamonic said. “The prognosis was better than we originally anticipated [this time]. All you can do is get to work and try to get better as fast as you can. I think that’s your only option.”
And how did he feel out there Tuesday?
“How’d I look?” he said, smirking. “I felt good.”