There are plenty of candidates among the defensemen at Islanders’ training camp. It’s just not clear how many jobs are available, given that the top six is defined.
The Islanders face the Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center after opening their six-game preseason schedule with a convincing 4-0 win over the Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Prospects Robin Salo and Grant Hutton, NHL veteran Erik Gustafsson, in camp on a professional tryout, and returnee Thomas Hickey were in Sunday’s lineup, vying for a roster spot. Sebastian Aho, Paul LaDue, Mitch Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon are among those who may also get looks in the preseason. Highly-touted prospect Samuel Bolduc (soreness) has yet to practice in camp.
The Islanders could keep eight defensemen on their initial roster since they open the regular season with a 13-game road trip starting on Oct. 14 at Carolina rather than the more typical seven. But coach Barry Trotz said that president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has yet to make that decision.
"All those situations have been thoroughly thought out," Trotz said. "There’s going to be a couple more that come up, everything from salary-cap based to roster based, waiver based and all of those will be intertwined. Lou’s very thorough on that and I know there’s different models that he’s put together. We’ll just sort of let camp dictate that. You get one or two injuries in training camp, that may blow up a lot of those models and then you’ve got to react to it and Lou is one of the best at reacting to that."
What is clear is the top six: Returnees Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Andy Greene, Noah Dobson and Scott Mayfield along with future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara.
Gustafsson logged a team-high 23:30 of ice time against the Rangers, including 5:48 on the 1-for-4 power play, with two assists while paired with Pulock. Hutton had one shot and two blocked shots – slowly getting to the bench after stopping a blast from Mika Zibanejad at 7:34 of the second period but not missing a shift – in 17:57. He was paired with Hickey, who logged 18:36 with two shots and two blocked shots.
Salo, a second-round pick in 2017 starting his first season in North America, played 19:10 with three shots as he was paired with Mayfield.
"I thought Salo was poised and made some really good decisions," Trotz said. "Gus, he moves the puck extremely well. I was really happy with him. He had two assists and they were high-skill plays. Hutton, he’s played with firmness in his game. He moves the puck. He sold out and blocked an important shot. When you sell out like he did and he blocked that shot, it takes a little bit from the opposition."
Hickey, Aho, Vande Sompel, Wotherspoon and LaDue would all have to clear waivers to be re-assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, as would Gustafsson if he is offered a contract.