The Islanders, who gave up an NHL-high 293 goals last season, need to improve their defense. Mitchell Vande Sompel, who knows he must work on his play without the puck, wants to be part of that upgrade.
The 21-year-old defenseman, a third-round pick in 2015, completed his first season of pro hockey with seven goals and 22 assists in 58 games for Bridgeport in 2017-18, missing time in February with a right shoulder injury but being named to the league’s All-Star Game.
“The first year of pro, it’s a different caliber of hockey,” said the 5-10, 192-pound Vande Sompel, who played junior hockey for Oshawa (OHL). “You’re playing against men, so you go through some ups and downs. Offensively, there were some nice spurts where I did good things. Defensively, there’s a learning curve to it.”
Being able to earn the coaching staff’s trust with his defensive play will be a key to Vande Sompel’s chance of reaching the NHL, but there likely will be spots available on the roster. Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey are impending unrestricted free agents and Dennis Seidenberg won’t return.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself,” Vande Sompel said. “The only reason you’re here is to get there. You’ve dreamed about it since you were a little kid. You tell yourself you’re not going to stop until you get there.”
Defenseman David Quenneville, a seventh-round pick in 2016, has extra motivation to eventually play for the Islanders. His cousin, via marriage, is veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who still has three seasons remaining on his seven-year, $42-million deal.
“I think it’d be a dream come true,” Quenneville said of being Boychuk’s teammate. “We work out in the summer [in Edmonton]. JB’s such a good man. We’ve gotten to be really close.”
Former first-rounder Josh Ho-Sang participated with his group for the first time at camp after being held off the ice for precautionary reasons Tuesday and Wednesday. Ho-Sang did not participate in Thursday’s four-on-four Blue and White scrimmage, though he skated that morning. The Islanders said they will not make Ho-Sang, who last season publicly questioned how the Islanders have handled his development, available for interviews during camp . . . Defenseman Parker Wotherspoon and goalie Linus Soderstrom continued to be held off the ice for precautionary reasons and treatment . . . The week-long camp concludes on Saturday morning with a five-on-five scrimmage, which is not open to the public.