LOS ANGELES — Don’t confuse the descriptions of rookie defenseman Noah Dobson as “happy go-lucky” and “always smiling” with complacency. The 19-year-old badly wants to be in the Islanders’ lineup.
“You want to play as a player,” Dobson said. “I’m trying to enjoy everything and keep learning and wait for the opportunity. I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult sometimes. You get frustrated. But they’ve been clear with the message: Work hard in practice and keep trying to get better so when you do get the opportunity, you make the most of it.”
Dobson got his first opportunity to play since Nov. 7 Wednesday night against the Kings at Staples Center to conclude a three-game California swing. Defenseman Nick Leddy was out after not practicing on Tuesday and not participating in the optional morning skate as he deals with a nagging injury coach Barry Trotz said was re-aggravated in Monday night’s 3-0 loss to the Ducks.
That defeat snapped the Islanders’ franchise record of gaining at least one point in 17 straight games (15-0-2).
Dobson, the 12th overall pick in 2018, entered Wednesday with two assists in his first six NHL games. He played three straight from Nov. 2-7 with Leddy nursing a lower-body injury.
But he is not eligible to be re-assigned to Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport this season so the organization’s only options are to keep Dobson on the NHL roster or return him to his junior hockey team. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello has said repeatedly he does not believe Dobson’s development would progress if he returned to juniors.
“His maturity level for a young man is exceptional,” Trotz said. “We had a talk with him early that his practices are going to have to be game-like. We’re trying to get him stronger and he’s made a big stride there. He just continues to grow and impress. He hasn’t lost any confidence. He’s always got a smile on his face.”
“He’s a pretty happy, go-lucky kid,” added left wing Matt Martin. “He’s absorbing a lot of information right now. In the games he has played, he’s played very well. It’s not the easiest situation to be in. I’m sure he wants to be in the lineup every night. He’s going to be a star player and there will come a time when he plays every night. I think everybody knows that.”
Until then, Dobson will likely continue to be spotted into the lineup at intervals, perhaps during back-to-back games to rest one of the veterans in the top six or in case of injury.
“As a player, you feel more comfortable the more games you play,” Dobson said. “I thought the last time I was in, by the third game it felt normal and natural. But it’s just a whole other level of everything from juniors. The main thing is guys are always in the right position. You know it’s not going to be an easy play, so you have to make the right play.”
Dobson has also spent plenty of time reviewing video in addition to the lessons he’s learning during practices, which includes working with “bigger boys” such as Martin to improve his physical play.
The video has shown Dobson that sometimes he can handle the puck longer than he realizes on the ice.
“The first few games you get the puck and you want to get it off right away because you’re not really comfortable or have as much confidence,” Dobson said. “Watching videos, you see some parts of the ice where you have a little more time to make a play.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Josh Bailey
Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Derick Brassard
Michael Dal Colle-Leo Komarov-Jordan Eberle
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Noah Dobson-Johnny Boychuk
Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Semyon Varlamov (7-2-2, 2.63 goals-against average, .913 save percentage)
Alex Iafallo-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Trevor Lews-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Adrian Kempe-Blake Lizotte-Austin Wagner
Kyle Clifford-Michael Amadio-Matt Luff
Sean Walker-Drew Doughty
Ben Hutton-Kurtis MacDermid
Joakim Ryan-Matt Roy
Jonathan Quick (6-9-1, 3.47, .881)