There are fewer choices but still hard roster decisions upcoming.
The Islanders made their first cuts on Thursday, reducing their training camp roster to a more manageable 52 players by assigning 12 to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport and re-assigning six more to their junior hockey teams.
“We’ve still got some battles going on, that’s for sure,” coach Barry Trotz said after two groups practiced at East Meadow. “There’s nothing defined. There’s a percentage of the team that you go, ‘Those are locks,’ and then there are question marks and we’ll go from there.”
The Islanders, with five preseason games remaining before opening the regular season on Oct. 4 against the Capitals at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, face the Red Wings at Detroit on Friday night and the Devils on the road the following night. Trotz said there would be separate game groups for the weekend.
And then Trotz indicated further cuts will be upcoming as the coaching staff focuses on the final roster battles. There are 14 forwards returning from last season and seven defensemen and forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson, the 11th and 12th overall picks in 2018 are among the prospects pushing for jobs.
“I just think it’s the next level,” Trotz said of reducing the roster. “At the start of training it was, ‘Let’s get the rust off and let’s get the compete and the work ethic.’ Now, we’re getting into some line (combinations), special teams, special situations.”
For instance, Thursday’s practices marked the start of power-play work under new assistant coach Jim Hiller.
“Everything is a little bit more detailed in practice,” said forward Tanner Fritz, pushing to secure an NHL job in his fourth season with the organization. “We’re just trying to get things fine-tuned as best you can with the exhibition games left.”
Forwards Steve Bernier, Ryan Bourque, Erik Brown, Colin McDonald, Travis St. Denis, defensemen Ryan MacKinnon, Justin Murray, David Quenneville and Parker Wotherspoon and goalies Evan Buitenhuis, Jakub Skarek and Linus Soderstrom were assigned to Bridgeport. The Sound Tigers open their camp on Friday.
Forwards Felix Bibeau (Quebec, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), Cole Coskey (Saginaw, Ontario Hockey League), Blade Jenkins (Saginaw, OHL), Brett Neumann (Oshawa, OHL) and Reece Newkirk (Portland, Western Hockey League) and defenseman Samuel Bolduc (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL) were re-assigned to their junior teams.
Notes & quotes: Centers Brock Nelson, Derick Brassard and Casey Cizikas, wings Anthony Beauvillier, Matt Martin, Josh Ho-Sang and Wahlstrom and defensemen Ryan Pulock, Johnny Boychuk and Devon Toews are expected to be in the lineup at Detroit. Goalie Semyon Varlamov is expected to start his second game…Forwards Andrew Ladd (knee) and Yanick Turcotte (upper body) and defensemen Mitchell Vande Sompel (upper body) and Bode Wilde (ankle) remain out of practices.