There seems to be an easy and ready solution to the Islanders’ lack of production from their back end. Devon Toews did enough in training camp to warrant remaining with the big club, and he’s playing well enough with Bridgeport (AHL) to deserve a call-up.
But, of course, the roster presents some complications. Otherwise, the 24-year-old, who still is waiting to make his NHL debut after being selected in the fourth round in 2014, wouldn’t have been among the Islanders’ final preseason roster cuts.
The Islanders (3-4-1) lost their second straight game when they could not hold a two-goal lead in the third period and fell to the Panthers, 3-2, in overtime on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. The Islanders, off from practice on Thursday, open a three-game road trip at Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.
Toews has a goal and five assists in seven AHL games this season, his first regular-season action since just after Christmas as he required season-ending shoulder surgery in January. His goal came in the Sound Tigers’ last game, a 4-3 shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on Sunday.
He has overcome a slow start to his AHL season that can be chalked up to his long, injury-induced layoff. Now Toews is playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, and he dressed for all three of Bridgeport’s weekend games.
His six points for the Sound Tigers are more than six of the Islanders’ seven defensemen combined.
Scott Mayfield has a goal and four assists in six games. But Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey each are without a point in eight games, Adam Pelech is without a point in seven games, Ryan Pulock and Johnny Boychuk have one assist each in eight games and Luca Sbisa has one assist in four games.
“Yeah, we’ll look at the pairs,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said after Wednesday’s loss. “Obviously, we had some turnovers that cost us some penalties. We’ve just got to manage the puck.”
Toews’ forte is his offensive game, and the organization still is working with him to improve his play away from the puck, particularly in being physical enough in his defense. But his stickhandling, skating and passing ability would go a long way toward helping the Islanders get the puck out of their zone more efficiently.
The real question is how to fit the left-shooting Toews, in the first season of a two-year, one-way, $1.4-million deal, onto the roster.
It makes no sense for him to join the Islanders only to be a healthy scratch. So either Pelech or Hickey, both lefties, would have to come out because even as the left-shooting Leddy struggles, he still can play top-pair minutes. Plus, the left-shooting Sbisa signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal after coming to training camp on a professional tryout offer and the organization is high on his veteran leadership.
There’s more than a decent shot Pelech or Sbisa would be claimed on waivers if the Islanders wanted to send them to Bridgeport.
But sooner rather than later, the Islanders need to give Toews his chance.