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Islanders' prospects pushing veterans for roster spots in training camp

Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom skates in front

Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom skates in front of defenseman Bode Wilde as goaltender Ilya Sorokin protects the net in a scrimmage game during Training Camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Barry Trotz loves talking about "back-side pressure."

The Islanders’ coach loves seeing it — younger prospects pushing veterans for roster spots — even more.

Through the first three days on ice at camp, Trotz has been pleased with the internal competition, not only from what he’s seeing from the younger players but how it pushes the veterans to keep their spots.

"I was impressed with a lot of guys," Trotz said. "There’s some back-side pressure, which is really good when you have that."

Trotz has seen it among his forwards and defensemen.

Semyon Varlamov and Russian rookie Ilya Sorokin are expected to be the goalie tandem, with ex-Devils starter Cory Schneider as the third option.

Trotz expects his three defense pairs to be set: Adam Pelech with Ryan Pulock, Nick Leddy with Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene with Noah Dobson. But he has six other defensemen in camp, with likely three of those ticketed either for the roster or the taxi squad.

Thomas Hickey has been with the Islanders since 2013, though he spent the bulk of last season with their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. He’s a logical seventh defenseman, but the Islanders would prefer to move the final two seasons of his four-year, $10 million deal if they can find a taker.

The organization believes Sebastian Aho, 24, is ready to make the jump to the NHL after three AHL seasons. Samuel Bolduc, 20, Grant Hutton, 25, Bode Wilde, 20, and Parker Wotherspoon, 23, are the prospects in camp.

"We’ve got a couple of young guys on the back end I think are going to make some big strides," Trotz said. "They all bring little different things and they are also in different development phases. So we’ll let it play out, but I was impressed with a lot of guys."

Bolduc, at 6-4, 213 pounds, and Hutton, at 6-3, 205 pounds, bring size. Wilde, a second-round pick in 2018, was limited to 20 games with Bridgeport last season because of injury.

"I was really impressed with a guy like Bode Wilde," Trotz said after the Islanders’ first session on Monday. "This is a big opportunity for him."

There are more opportunities to forge a full-time role up front.

Along with Hickey, the Islanders are trying to entice teams into a trade for bottom-six grinder/penalty-killer Leo Komarov, who has two seasons remaining on his four-year, $12 million deal.

Matt Martin has been re-signed to a four-year, $6 million deal, so his fourth line with center Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck will be intact. Brock Nelson’s line with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey also is set. When/if restricted free agent Mathew Barzal signs his new deal, he’ll go back in between Anders Lee and right wing Jordan Eberle.

But the wings on third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line — presuming Pageau does not have to take Barzal’s spot — are in question.

Former first-rounders Oliver Wahlstrom, who seems to have strengthened his two-way game with his stint in Sweden, and Kieffer Bellows will get long looks at camp.

Michael Dal Colle scored a goal in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Newly acquired Dmytro Timashov has played in the bottom six for the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. A.J. Greer, formerly of the Avalanche, is in the mix. Plus the Islanders still have Ross Johnston and Andrew Ladd as well as Tom Kuhnhackl, who is expected to re-sign.

"I thought Wahlstrom had one of his best days on the line," Trotz said of Wednesday’s scrimmage. "They know what’s at stake. They’re raising their level and trying to impress. They’re making the decisions really hard and I’m looking forward to the next few scrimmages."

The Islanders were off on Thursday and will resume camp on Friday with their second scrimmage.

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