Hulking Zdeno Chara was already in his third NHL season when his defense partner at the start of this Islanders’ training camp was born. Not surprisingly, Noah Dobson keenly followed all the future Hall of Famer’s accomplishments.
"Just being able to share the ice with Z is special for me," Dobson told Newsday on Saturday. "I grew up watching him lots and obviously a lot of respect for everything he’s been able to do in this league. It’s a great honor to play with him and I’m really looking forward to continue to build that connection and keep getting better with one another."
The Islanders open their six-game preseason schedule on Sunday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The team did not announce its roster for the game but it’s a near certainty Dobson and Chara will be paired whenever they make their preseason debuts.
The Islanders signed Chara, 44, who spent last season with the Capitals after 14 seasons with one Stanley Cup as the Bruins’ captain, in part because of Chara’s contributions to the development of defensemen Torey Krug and Long Beach’s Charlie McAvoy while in Boston.
Not that Dobson hasn’t been mentored well before the 6-9, 250-pound Chara’s arrival. The right-shooting Dobson has been mainly paired with Andy Greene, 38, since the former Devils captain was acquired on Feb. 16, 2020.
Of course, Greene is "only" 5-11, 190 pounds.
"[Chara] makes a lot of guys look pretty small," defenseman Adam Pelech, 6-3, 213 pounds, said. "He’s a big, intimidating guy. But he’s an extremely nice guy. He’s great in the locker room."
Dobson, the 12th overall pick in 2018, is entering his third season with the Islanders after compiling three goals and 11 assists in 46 games last season and adding seven assists in 19 playoff games.
He’s a gifted skater and puck-handler who should have a chance to provide more offense with Nick Leddy traded to the Red Wings for salary cap purposes.
"Either guy I get paired with, I love playing with the guys," the 6-4, 195-pound Dobson said. "They make it easy. Especially those two guys, they’ve been around for a while and they make it easy for a young guy like me. The opportunity to play with Z, it’s a little bit of an adjustment as him and Andy are different style players.
"That physical element with a guy that size, it’s pretty impressive. Watching a guy that size and the way he moves still and the way he’s able to close in on guys. I think we’ll able to complement each other well with the different playing styles. He uses his size really well down low in the corner. He’s obviously strong as an ox. He’s able to pin guys and use his long reach."
Dobson said Chara had a strong presence off the ice as well. Chara was initially selected 56th overall by the Islanders in 1996 and spent his first four NHL seasons with the franchise before being traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2001.
Chara had two goals and eight assists in 55 games for the Capitals while averaging an impressive 18:19 of ice time.
"He’s a guy you want to be around," Dobson said. "For a young guy like me, just being a sponge around him, trying to pick up little things."