The 24 NHL teams participating in the resumption of games have more leeway with a 31-man roster allowed coming out of Training Camps 2.0 as compared to the 23-player regular season maximum.
Still, Islanders coach Barry Trotz is anticipating some tough decisions before the team departs on Sunday for its quarantined hotel/arena bubble in Toronto. Trotz will hold off on any final decisions until departure day.
“You’re going to go right up and down the lineup,” Trotz said after Wednesday’s practice and scrimmage at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “Who would be a fit if we get an injury to a specific guy? I think it’ll be based on the depth of those roles, not necessarily the position.”
The Islanders, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, face the 10th-seeded Panthers in a best-of-five qualifying series starting on Aug. 1. They also play the rival Rangers in an exhibition game on July 29.
The Islanders have 34 players — 19 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goalies — on their training camp roster. The top four lines are essentially set with a couple of questions remaining. Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss are the top two goalies with Christopher Gibson likely serving as the backup to the backup and, perhaps, Jakub Skarek backing up the backup to the backup.
But some decisions may hinge on how many defensemen the Islanders want on the 31-man roster.
“You can never have enough,” Trotz said. “Probably, you’re looking at nine or 10. That’s a safe number. That’s an area where we’re deep. We’ll have some tough decisions. It’s good to have some depth.”
But Trotz is still trying to settle on a top six as much as he is deciding which defensemen to bring as reserves. Andy Greene and rookie Noah Dobson are having a strong camp as a pair and either could force himself into the top six, or, together, unseat another pair from among Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock (very, very unlikely), Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk.
“Honestly, I feel really comfortable with the four pairs right now, which is a luxury,” Trotz said. “I think Greeny and Dobber, their game is matched up to anybody’s game right now.”
Thomas Hickey, Sebastian Aho, who participated in his first scrimmage of camp after resuming skating on Monday, and Grant Hutton are the other defensemen.
As for the forward lines, Mathew Barzal’s top line with captain Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle has looked “pretty dynamic,” Trotz said.
And a healthy Casey Cizikas has allowed Trotz to reunite his identity-setting fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, a trio that was together for just 19 of the 68 games before the season was paused on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I got yelling at Casey today and he got yelling back at me, I think things are back to normal with us,” Clutterbuck said. “It really doesn’t take a long time with us. After a scrimmage, or a period of a scrimmage, it seems to be pretty normal.”
Still to be settled is the composition of the other two lines. Center Brock Nelson is set with right wing Josh Bailey but Anthony Beauvillier was moved on Monday from that line to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line with Derick Brassard.
Ross Johnston skated on Nelson’s left wing for the second straight practice. But Tom Kuhnhackl and Michael Dal Colle have also spent time on Pageau’s line and Andrew Ladd and rookies Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom and Otto Koivula, all who spent the bulk of the season with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, are on the camp roster. So is pesky Leo Komarov, still recovering from a facial injury but back on the ice.