Islanders training camp begins Thursday when players report for physicals. Here are five questions the team faces heading into camp:
1. What’s doing with John Tavares and his contract?
Nothing, which is not what the organization or its fans want to read. Tavares told Newsday in August he’s willing to enter this final season of his six-year, $33-million deal without an extension, and it certainly looks as if he’s willing to wait until the end of 2017-18 to get some clarity on the team’s future home before making any decisions.
There will be plenty of questions thrown at Tavares and his teammates about whether such a move will be a distraction, and the only way to dispel that talk will be on the ice once the season starts.
2. How many young kids have a shot to make the club?
Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier got a taste of NHL life last season, but the competition to snag one of the 23 roster spots on opening night is tough — and Beauvillier is eligible to play in the AHL, unlike last season.
Mathew Barzal has a big opportunity among the forwards, along with Ho-Sang and Beauvillier. Injuries to depth forwards Shane Prince and Alan Quine also give the three young guys a better shot to break camp with the Isles. On defense, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield missed the cut last season, but with Travis Hamonic gone, both of those right-shot defensemen have a real opportunity, along with Adam Pelech.
3. Who’s in goal?
Only two goaltenders are projected to make the team, a welcome change from the previous two seasons of three goaltenders and lots of grumbling. Thomas Greiss earned a three-year extension in January and Jaroslav Halak is now welcomed into the fold after a three-month exile in Bridgeport last season. Those two veterans either will battle it out for the No. 1 job or share it, with Kristers Gudlevkis and Christopher Gibson, two young goaltenders with a bit of NHL experience, waiting in the wings.
4. Where does new Islander Jordan Eberle fit in?
As a five-time 20-goal scorer, wherever he darn well pleases. When the Islanders dealt Ryan Strome to the Oilers for Eberle on the eve of the June draft, they surrendered some youth for a veteran in Eberle who was a good scorer on some bad Edmonton teams. Now he’ll likely start camp on Tavares’ right side to develop some serious top-line chemistry and give Tavares the elite right wing he hasn’t had since Thomas Vanek’s brief stay on the Island.
5. Who are some lesser-known prospects to watch this camp?
Devon Toews and Parker Wotherspoon were fourth-round picks in 2014 and 2015, and they will be the anchors of Bridgeport’s defense this season. The Isles have used at least nine defensemen every season in the last decade, so expect to see one or both of them in the NHL at some point this year.
Gudlevskis, acquired from the Lightning in July, and Gibson also may get the call if Halak or Greiss misses any time. And among a thin group of forward prospects beyond the three mentioned earlier, John Stevens, an undrafted center and the son of the Kings coach, could be a decent depth option later in the season.