Jack Skille is one of a group of new Islanders who probably thought, when they signed towards the end of a busy July 1, they had a better than decent shot to crack an opening-night roster in need of some overhauling.
Of course, that changed by the end of business on July 2. Skille, Cory Conacher, Harry Zolnierczyk and T.J. Brennan all signed on the first day of free agency -- Conacher and Brennan both signed one-way deals for $600,000; Skille and Zolnierczyk signed two-way deals that would pay each of them $300,000 if they're sent to the minors and $750,000 and $650,000 at the NHL level.
Garth Snow went for bigger fish on day two of free agency, adding Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to a crowded forward group. Brennan is the only defensemen of these four young journeymen, so his roster chances were unaffected; Brennan has also been skating at IceWorks for a couple weeks, clearly trying to get acclimated as early as possible with an eye on grabbing a spot.
For the forwards, though, the Grabovski/Kulemin signings complicated matters. But players like Conacher, who just two seasons ago was the main piece going to the Senators from the Lightning for goaltender Ben Bishop, and Skille, who was the No. 7 pick by the Hawks in 2005, can find camp spots and work almost anywhere.
"Obviously, things change. Sometimes over the course of a season, sometimes over the course of 24 hours," Skille said after an IceWorks skate. "So, for me I'm long enough in my career, I'm not worried about things I can't control. I can't control what management is going to do, what the coaches will do, I can only control what I can bring to the table every day. That's my focus going into camp. I know it's going to be competitive and I'm going to have to earn a job."
Skille had that chance in Columbus last year after spending three seasons each with the Hawks and Panthers. He felt that he was in position to earn a spot with a team on the rise, but Skille was cut after what he called a disappointing camp. He ended up playing 16 games for the Blue Jackets and all six of their playoff games, but Skille still feels he missed an opportunity he doesn't want to miss again.
"I have a lot more confidence, I'm a stronger player in a lot of areas," Skille said. "I'm expecting to have a strong camp, to make a strong showing. I signed here for a reason. I think they're going to give me a good, strong look. A lot of it as a player in this situation, it goes on the coach's trust. You've got to earn his trust right away, get him on your side. That's through smart play, good decisions on the ice and accepting your role. When you consistently do that in practice, in games, you earn the coach's trust. It's a huge piece for a player in my situation."