A clean-shaven Robert Bortuzzo sat at his locker stall after the Islanders’ morning skate on Saturday excited to play for his new team and, honestly, enjoying his new look.
Acquired from the Blues on Friday for a seventh-round pick after defenseman Ryan Pulock was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, Bortuzzo received a bit of advice from now-former St. Louis teammates Nick Leddy and goalie Thomas Greiss, both ex-Islanders.
“Both said, ‘Get your razor,’ ” said Bortuzzo, who adhered to president/general manager Lou Lamoriello’s ban on facial hair during the regular season. “Frankly, it’s a pretty cool thing they do here to get a whole team to do something like that.”
Bortuzzo made his Islanders debut against the Kings on Saturday night at UBS Arena, his first time dressing for a game since Nov. 18, also against the Kings — a 5-1 Blues loss in Los Angeles.
Bortuzzo, 34, had been with the Blues since 2015 and won a Stanley Cup in 2019. The Penguins selected him in the third round in 2007 and he played parts of four seasons for Pittsburgh.
The 6-4, 216-pound Bortuzzo came to the Islanders with 20 goals, 54 assists and 491 penalty minutes in 537 NHL games. He played in only four games this season for the Blues and didn’t collect a point.
The physical, right-handed, stay-at-home defenseman was paired with rookie Samuel Bolduc to start Saturday’s game.
“I’m happy with him,” coach Lane Lambert said. “From all indications, there isn’t one bad thing that’s said about this particular person. My communication with him has been fantastic. I look forward to seeing him in the lineup and his leadership.”
The Islanders’ blue-line corps has been wracked by injuries. In addition to Pulock, who was hurt when he blocked a shot off his right leg in Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Blue Jackets, Adam Pelech (long-term injured reserve/upper body) and Sebastian Aho (injured reserve/upper body) have been out since Nov. 24.
The Islanders claimed defenseman Mike Reilly off waivers from the Panthers on Nov. 25. His stint as the new guy lasted seven games.
“Truly thrilled to be here,” said Bortuzzo, in the second season of a two-year, $1.9 million contract. “It’s exciting. You never want to see guys go down, but there are opportunities. I’m excited to try and contribute and hopefully do some good things here with a good group that’s looking to do some special things.”
Bortuzzo acknowledged his time in St. Louis had “run its course” but praised Blues GM Doug Armstrong for working with him to find another opportunity to play in the NHL.
“Ten years in one place,” Bortuzzo said. “Coming into the league, I never would have thought something like that could happen. I can’t speak enough about what that city and organization meant to me.
“It was tough,” Bortuzzo said of not playing much this season. “But I think that’s why I’m so excited for this opportunity. I feel like I’ve done enough to stay ready all year.”
Part of his new job will be to help mentor Bolduc’s NHL development, which Pulock had been doing as his on-ice partner.
Bolduc’s more assertive play has allowed Lambert to increase his ice time. He logged more than 16 minutes in each of the previous three games for the first time this season.
“Robert has a lot of games played in the NHL as well,” Bolduc said. “[Pulock] has been great with me and we work pretty good together. It stinks to lose a guy like him. I still need to play the best I can no matter who I play with.”