These are not normal training camps, by the usual NHL standards, as teams prepare for a sprint of a truncated regular season without any preseason games. But the Islanders had success with an altered format this past summer after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a four-month shutdown, reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993.
So the Islanders, on the ice in training camp for the first time on Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow as they prepare for their season opener against the Rangers on Jan. 14 at Madison Square Garden, are confident they can duplicate this summer’s success.
Camp did open without restricted free agent Mathew Barzal as negotiations continue between the Islanders and their top-line center.
"It is the same model," coach Barry Trotz said after leading two on-ice sessions among the 34 players available. "You have to have a really good foundation right now. You’re not going to have a lot of practice time once you get started with the schedule. We learned that. What we found is that our group played pretty deep and they have the foundations down."
Trotz cautioned not to pay too much attention to the initial line combinations or defense pairings, adding the first three days of on-ice work would be devoted to fundamentals.
"And then we’ll get into our lines and then you guys can quiz me every day on that," he said.
"We’ve got a couple of new players and some young players who weren’t necessarily part of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We’re making sure that we’re not missing those foundations as well for them because they may be part of the taxi squad. So we just want to make sure that everybody’s up and running. I thought we had a really good day."
Teams can carry a 23-man roster and a taxi squad consisting of four to six players that will practice and travel with the main group.
The training camp roster, finally released on Monday after most teams made theirs public over the weekend, includes 22 forwards, 12 defensemen and four goalies, including highly touted Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin.
Both Barzal and Tom Kuhnhackl, who remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent, are included on the training camp roster. Those two along with forwards Austin Czarnik (undisclosed) and Simon Holmstrom (quarantining) were the only players not to skate on Monday.
Prospect Otto Koivula took Barzal’s spot between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle.
Dmytro Timashov, a bottom-six forward acquired from the Red Wings on Dec. 11, was among those practicing, meaning he has agreed to a new contract as an RFA, though the Islanders have not announced a deal.
Timashov skated as a center between top prospect Oliver Wahlstrom – who flashed some strong defensive play, the element that may determine whether he makes the roster – and Andrew Ladd.
This camp is shorter than the two weeks the Islanders had this summer before departing for their postseason bubble in Toronto. And the Islanders had one exhibition game before starting postseason play.
Still, the Islanders can take lessons from what they did in July.
"I think it places that much more importance on the attention to detail," Lee said. "You don’t have any preseason games to work things out. There are no split-squad scrimmages. You don’t have those opportunities to work out the kinks."
"Personally, I like it," forward Josh Bailey said. "It really puts a lot of emphasis on making sure you’re completely dialed in and have all the details, firing on all cylinders. Because it’s going to happen quick, just like it did last summer. We’re comfortable in this situation."