Training camp marks the start of the season’s journey. But the Islanders are really hoping the preseason tinkering and tryouts just lead to building off last season’s foundation rather than a total reboot, particularly after an offseason of few roster moves.
Year 2 under president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz officially opens on Thursday when approximately 70 players report for training camp in East Meadow. The first season saw a 23-point improvement in the standings and a sweep of the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs before the Islanders were swept by the Hurricanes. The Isles also went from allowing the most goals in the NHL to giving up the fewest.
“I think we proved a lot of things last year,” captain Anders Lee said. “We exceeded a lot of expectations and now we have to do that again and continue to improve. One of our biggest challenges this year is having that same group and getting more out of each other and more out of yourself individually. That’s what camp brings and what the regular season brings.”
The first on-ice sessions will be Friday, with the seven-game preseason opening on Monday night at Philadelphia. The Islanders then face the Flyers on Tuesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and also play two games each against the Rangers and Red Wings.
Lamoriello spent the offseason re-signing all of his key unrestricted and restricted free agents except for Vezina Trophy finalist goalie Robin Lehner and center Valtteri Filppula. In their places, he signed ex-Rangers center Derick Brassard to a one-year, $1.2 million deal and goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million deal to form a tandem with Thomas Greiss.
In all, seven defensemen return from last season as well as 14 forwards, including Cal Clutterbuck and Andrew Ladd, who are recovering from back and knee surgeries, respectively. That does not include Tanner Fritz and Josh Ho-Sang, both of whom saw time with the Islanders last season.
Still, management has indicated there will be opportunities for prospects such as defenseman Noah Dobson, Ho-Sang (yes, technically still a prospect), Oliver Wahlstrom, Otto Koivula and Kieffer Bellows, among others, to push for a roster spot. Plus, Michael Dal Colle, the fifth overall pick in 2014, seems poised to take a regular spot in the lineup after notching three goals and four assists in 28 games last season but playing in just one of the playoff games.
The Islanders are looking for more production, particularly from their wings and their power play, which is now under the guidance of new assistant coach Jim Hiller.
“Camp is always kind of an open competition for everyone,” said Anthony Beauvillier, entering his fourth NHL season at 22 after his production slumped to 18 goals and 10 assists in 81 games last season. “The young guys want to make the roster, they want to push for a spot. As older guys, we just want to keep working, keep our spot. For me, it’s taking another step in my game. I’m ready for it. I had a big summer and that’s my goal.”
Either Beauvillier or Dal Colle could wind up among the top-six forwards. Brassard, who compiled 14 goals and nine assists bouncing from the Penguins to the Panthers to the Avalanche last season, likely will fill Filppula’s spot on a line with Leo Komarov.
“When I look back, I almost feel like I didn’t play last season because I moved so many times,” the 31-year-old Brassard said. “It was impossible to get going. I know what I can do out there. I know I can help this team.”