Andrew Ladd, since he remains on injured reserve, is prohibited by a team rule from talking to the media about his apparent imminent return to the Islanders’ lineup.
But the veteran forward taking regular turns in line drills at practice and the fact that Tanner Fritz was re-assigned to Bridgeport (AHL) on Thursday to open a spot on the Islanders’ 23-man roster speaks volumes about Ladd’s recovery from an upper-body injury that has kept him out of all eight preseason games the first three regular-season games.
The Islanders (2-1-0) open a four-game road trip on Saturday night at Nashville.
“Hopefully, maybe Nashville,” coach Barry Trotz said. “If not, I’m sure he’ll be ready to go after that. We haven’t had any setbacks so that’s a good sign.”
Ladd, 32, is in the third season of a seven-year, $38.5-million deal. But, bothered by back issues, Ladd slumped to 12 goals and 17 assists in 73 games last season.
He skated on Valtteri Filppula’s third line during Thursday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. It marked the second straight day Ladd worked with the Islanders’ regulars in practice, rather than skating on a line of extra forwards.
“I think he’s moving forward,” Trotz said. “I put him there so, mentally, you’re working towards something.”
Ladd was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Sept. 16, when he left a team scrimmage without taking a shift on the third day of training camp. At the time, Trotz reported that Ladd was dealing with “tightness.”
“He’s a good player,” Filppula said. “He plays hard, he can score, he’s got a real good shot. If we’re going to be on the same line, I like how he plays defensively. He really takes a lot of pride in that and it makes a center’s play a lot easier.”
Filppula added that Ladd’s forechecking and puck retrieval skills were similar to linemate Leo Komarov.
“When you don’t do that as much, it’s always nice when your wingers do,” Filppula said.
Still, former general manager Garth Snow signed Ladd to a mega-deal because the Islanders expected him to be a top-six forward and contribute more offensively. He did score 23 goals in his first season with the Islanders, six shy of his career high.
Ladd has played on both the power play and the penalty kill, but for now Trotz is not rushing to get him back on a special teams unit. Penalty kill work likely would come first.
“I know he’s a good net-front presence for a power play,” Trotz said. “It’ll be one step at a time. Let’s just get him back in the lineup. That would be really good right now.”
Fritz, a 27-year-old forward, had an assist in the Islanders’ first two games after notching three goals and four assists in 34 games last season and had already cleared waivers, making it an easy move for the Islanders to make.
“I don’t think that’s the last you’ll see of him, for sure,” Trotz said.