The Islanders needed to find out two things when they reassigned Andrew Ladd to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. The first was whether the left wing was healthy coming off injuries to both knees last season. The second was whether he still could be a viable NHL player.
“I think that was probably the order,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Sunday after practice in East Meadow, Ladd’s first with the team since being recalled Saturday with Cal Clutterbuck out indefinitely. “You’ve got to, A, go down there and get your confidence being healthy. Then the next process is how productive you are at that level and see if you can do it at this level.”
Trotz said Ladd needs to play fearless hockey.
“He got hurt last year, both times being fearless, but his game was the Andrew Ladd game that’s going to keep him in the NHL,” he said. “Anybody who’s had any kind of injury, especially major injuries, yes, they’re healthy. They’re excited to get back. But are they fearless? They’re probably cautious. It’s just human nature. You have to get over that barrier. Once you do, you get back to probably as close as you’re going to get after an injury.”
Ladd likely will return to the Islanders’ lineup Monday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum against the Blue Jackets, the last game before the NHL’s three-day holiday break.
The 34-year-old, in the fourth season of a seven-year, $38.5 million deal, played only 26 games last season and had three goals and eight assists. He missed 44 games because of an injured right knee, then had surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on March 24.
The Islanders initially sent Ladd to Bridgeport on Nov. 2 for a conditioning assignment. His initial five games did not prove to the organization that he was ready for the NHL, so he was placed on waivers Nov. 14 in order to be reassigned to the Sound Tigers.
In all, Ladd had seven goals and two assists in 19 games for Bridgeport, including two goals in his last game Wednesday.
“I feel great,” said Ladd, who practiced on Derick Brassard’s third line with Tom Kuhnhackl. “Especially the last five games, everything is starting to come together. Being a little more comfortable and holding on to the puck and getting to the net. Being more physical. It’s probably a little slower than I wanted to. But I was really confident the last five games in how I played.”
The Islanders’ third and fourth lines are in flux because of Clutterbuck’s injury. He required surgery to repair tendons on Friday after his left wrist was slashed by Patrice Bergeron’s skate blade in Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout win in Boston.
Ladd could be one solution, provided he can be mobile enough.
Notes & quotes: Michael Dal Colle (upper body), who has missed three games, resumed skating with his teammates, but he and Matt Martin appeared to be the extra forwards at practice.