Lou Lamoriello acknowledged there is a tendency around the NHL because of the salary cap to sometimes force younger – read: cheaper – players onto the roster.
In that sense, the Islanders president and general manager went against the grain on Monday as the training camp roster was trimmed to 28 players, just five above the regular-season limit, with two preseason games remaining.
Former first-rounders Josh Ho-Sang, 22, and Kieffer Bellows, 20, were among eight players assigned to Bridgeport (AHL). Defenseman Noah Dobson, 18, the 11th overall pick this June, was returned to his junior team, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL).
“I thought they played extremely well,” Lamoriello said of Bellows and Dobson. “I think they have a bright future. Bellows certainly showed up well, better than I thought he would. But, right now, we have to make some decisions with the people we have here and we have to give the ice time to them. It’s best for him to go to the minors, play a lot, play in key situations and grow as a player.”
Meanwhile, defenseman Luca Sbisa, 28, in training camp on a professional tryout after injuries limited him to 30 games last season for Vegas, was signed to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.5 million.
Bellows, selected 19th overall in 2016 and entering his first professional season, had two power-play goals and an assist in four preseason games. Ho-Sang, selected 28th overall in 2014 and in the final season of his entry-level deal, making this a make-or-break season for him in the organization, was scoreless in two preseason games. Dobson had an assist in his two preseason games.
“I thought he worked hard,” Lamoriello said of Ho-Sang. “He worked hard on his game away from the puck. He just needs to go to the minors, go there and get over all these issues that I haven’t seen that transpired in the past.”
Ho-Sang was critical toward the end of last season as to how his development has been handled. He also was off the ice on the second day of training camp for an unexplained “personal day.”
But the real issues are there’s no space for Bellows on the power play, and Ho-Sang wasn’t going to secure a spot among the top six forwards, where his dynamic offensive skill is best suited.
The bottom six is crowded with imported veterans such as ex-Flyer Valtteri Filppula, ex-Maple Leaf Leo Komarov, ex-Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl as well as returning Islander Ross Johnston. Coach Barry Trotz seems inclined to start the season with the reunited trio of Casey Cizikas centering Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck as his third line.
“We have a lot of players under contract,” Lamoriello said. “We have to find out who they are and if they can play before any major decisions can be made. But these players that are going down, they don’t deserve to be here right now. They haven’t played that well that they should be taking a job away from the veterans at this point.”
Forwards Michael Dal Colle, the fifth overall pick in 2014, Ben Holmstrom and Travis St. Denis, defensemen Sebastian Aho and Parker Wotherspoon and goalie Jeremy Smith also were assigned to Bridgeport.
Forwards Tanner Fritz, Mike Sislo and Steve Bernier, defenseman Seth Helgeson and goalie Christopher Gibson were placed on waivers and can be reassigned to Bridgeport if they clear. Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and forward Stephen Gionta remain with the Islanders on professional tryout offers.