The Islanders officially began training camp on Thursday with early-morning physical exams. The real test, to see whether this slightly revamped group can improve upon last season, begins on the ice Friday.
“Nothing has changed for us,” said Doug Weight, the assistant coach and assistant general manager who in charge of the team with Jack Capuano working for Team USA at the World Cup. “We have high expectations going into training camp and we feel that we have a playoff team and a team that can take another step.”
Thursday was the first official day as an Islander for newcomers Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera and a return for PA Parenteau. It was the first day back to work for Anders Lee, who missed the final week of the regular season and the entire postseason with a broken leg.
Lee dipped from 25 goals as a rookie in 2014-15 to 15 last season. The 26-year-old is no kid anymore, but he is among the young group of homegrown Islanders forwards — Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson round out that trio — who had inconsistent to downright forgettable seasons last year and begin on-ice work Friday with things to prove.
“That was kind of the toughest part — the season didn’t go the way I wanted it to and the last (few) games I was finding it and was really playing well,” Lee said. “To have it end not on my own terms stinks, but just bad luck and something that motivates you all summer and makes you look forward to the following year.”
This will be a different sort of camp, at least through the weekend heading into the opening preseason games on Monday and Tuesday. No John Tavares, still trying to help Canada win a World Cup; no Jaro Halak or Thomas Greiss, trying to do the same for the upstart Europe squad, and no Nikolay Kulemin, whose Russian team also advanced to semifinals.
“It’s a bit like an injury — you’re missing guys so you’re looking for people to step up,” Weight said.
One Islander is injured and unable to participate. Mikhail Grabovski went through the physical and neurological exams on Thursday and was not cleared by the medical staff to return to the ice due to concussion symptoms. Grabovski hasn’t played since March 15 and his career is in doubt.
For the rest of the 44 players who will be divided into two groups and start work Friday, there’s one goal — two, really. Make the team and then try and get the Isles even further than they went last spring, when they won a playoff round for the first time since 1993.
“A lot of experience, but at the same time, expectations and we like to rise to those challenges of meeting those expectations,” Lee said. “We’ve had a team here the last few years that can really do some damage in the playoffs, so to take that step last year was really big for us and just that experience that we can bring into this year.”