BOSTON - Jack Capuano is usually loath to single out players who need to be better. Asked about where Ryan Strome stood heading into last night's preseason game here against the Bruins, Capuano pulled no punches.
"I think Ryan knows his camp hasn't been where it needs to be," the coach said of the Isles' top prospect. "He has the kind of talent a lot of guys would love to have, but we need to see him get involved more. And he knows that."
Strome seemed a lock to start this season with the Isles after splitting his rookie year between Bridgeport, where he made the AHL All-Star Game after posting 34 points in his first 23 games, and the Islanders, where he finished the season with a solid showing in 37 games.
But this crowded training camp is forcing Capuano and his staff to take nothing for granted and assume spots for only a handful of forwards. Strome, caught a bit in limbo as his natural center position is completely overcrowded, didn't come out of the gate quickly and a host of veteran additions to the middle of the Isles' forward depth have threatened to push Strome back to the minors.
"I think I've been around long enough so I know what's at stake," Strome said. "You see how hungry some of the older guys are for jobs, and I'm no different. It's important for me to keep pushing guys and show I belong."
Strome was at center last night, starting between Nikolay Kulemin and Josh Bailey, the latter an Isles mainstay who also needs a strong week to have a spot when the season begins in Raleigh on Oct. 10.
But Strome does not appear to fit into the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, who skated with 24-year-old free agent signee Cory Conacher for part of the game. With Frans Nielsen set to anchor a defense-oriented third line and Casey Cizikas working hard as the fourth-line center, Strome's only real shot is on the second line, which likely will have Mikhail Grabovski and Kulemin on it.
Time is not on Strome's side. He may get one more game of the two remaining preseason contests, Thursday in Newark against the Devils and Friday in Bridgeport against the Bruins, but final evaluations will come soon after.
Should Strome end up in Bridgeport to start the season, there's every reason to think he'll be back up in short order, with injuries and the usual vagaries of the regular season.
"We obviously want him to be a big part of our club," Capuano said. "He's a very intelligent player and person. He knows what he has to do."
Notes & quotes:The Isles let a two-goal lead slip, but rallied for a 5-3 win. T.J. Brennan, Conacher, Okposo, Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield scored the goals.
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