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5 questions facing the Islanders as training camp opens

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders warms

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders warms up before a game against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, March 7, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders report for training camp on Wednesday with the first on-ice sessions on Thursday.

While the core of the team remains mostly intact after back-to-back trips to the NHL final four — with losses to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning each time — there are some roster decisions to be made before the season opener on Oct. 14 at Carolina. The six-game preseason schedule begins Sunday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Here are five training camp questions:

1. Is Anders Lee fully healthy?

The captain is expected to be back for the start of training camp after suffering a season-ending right ACL tear on March 11. Despite his seemingly rapid recovery — he was skating on his own during the Islanders’ postseason run — the seriousness of his injury bears watching. How many preseason games will he play? His power game is predicated on parking his big body near the net and creating havoc. Will the injury erode any of that skill?

2. Which defensemen make the team?

Five of last season’s top six return — Noah Dobson, Andy Greene, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock — and are seemingly locks for playing time if healthy. Nick Leddy was traded to the Red Wings for salary-cap purposes, leaving a spot for a left-shooting defenseman. Future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara, 44, returns to the Islanders 20 years after being traded away. Erik Gustafsson, who can replicate some of Leddy’s offensive skills, also will be in camp. That’s likely the top seven unless prospects Samuel Bolduc, Robin Salo or Bode Wilde, holdovers Thomas Hickey or Sebastian Aho or an older prospect such as Parker Wotherspoon or Mitch Vande Sompel prove otherwise.

3. Which forwards make the team?

This is another set group, with Lee likely returning to his top-line role on Mathew Barzal’s left wing. Jordan Eberle is gone to the expansion Seattle Kraken, but either Kyle Palmieri or Oliver Wahlstrom could slot in on right wing. Brock Nelson will likely continue to center left wing Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey. Casey Cizikas will likely continue to center the identity line with left wing Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Jean-Gabriel Pageau could wind up in between newly signed Zach Parise and either Palmieri or Wahlstrom. That leaves pesky Leo Komarov, a favorite of both coach Barry Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, gritty Richard Panik, acquired for Leddy, and rugged Ross Johnston as possible extras. It also could leave prospects Kieffer Bellows and Otto Koivula exposed to waivers if the Islanders reassign them to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Wahlstrom does not require waivers for an AHL reassignment, which Lamoriello could take advantage of to give him more time to sort out his roster.

4. Will Lou Lamoriello make another deal?

It’s still possible Lamoriello, not wanting to lose an asset for nothing through waivers, instead opts to make a trade. Either Bellows, Koivula or Aho could attract varying degrees of interest. Moving Komarov, who has one season remaining on a four-year, $12 million deal, would give the Islanders more cap flexibility. Lamoriello could also do a favor for Hickey, 32 and with one season remaining on his four-year, $10 million deal, and see if there’s a better opportunity for him to stick in the NHL elsewhere.

5. Will there be signs of a near-Cup hangover?

This is scheduled to be the first 82-game regular season since 2018-19 after the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the last two seasons. So, it will be a long way to go between now and a chance again to compete for a berth in the Cup Final. The Islanders’ players are well versed in the need to focus on the here and now and not the long-term picture. Still, after two long playoff runs, the players know exactly how much work — and luck — is needed to reach their ultimate goal. That can be daunting.

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