Jordan Eberle and John Tavares stepped on the ice together for the first time on Friday and it likely won’t be the last. Eberle, Tavares and Anders Lee were the most notable of the 10 forward lines, spread over two groups, that Doug Weight assembled for the first day of Islanders training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center.
That seems like a ready-made first line and it will likely get a chance to jell over the three-week camp that kicked off yesterday and gets into a higher gear with Sunday’s preseason opener against the Flyers at the renovated Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live.
“It’s great, I think chemistry’s huge, but also things change quickly during camp,” Eberle said. “I think the most important thing in camp is finding your individual game, finding that confidence you need for the season.”
There were some other interesting line trios and defense pairings on day one. Mathew Barzal, the 20-year-old center who made last year’s team out of camp but lasted only two games before being sent back to his Western League junior team, centered veterans Andrew Ladd and Josh Bailey. In the second group, Brock Nelson skated between youngsters Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang and the presumptive grind line of Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck was already together.
The defense veterans were each paired with a young player trying to crack the opening-night roster: Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan-Adam Pelech and Devon Toews-Johnny Boychuk were the most attention-getting pairs.
“You want to have some symmetry, see if guys hit it off, if chemistry’s made, but you know — Jason Chimera was on with two good players, but he’s with (undrafted rookie) John Stevens,” Weight said. “Jason’s a pro, scored 20 goals, but I want to see certain guys with certain guys. These guys that are fighting to make the team need to get good looks and they need to get good minutes. We have a lot of good players to move around.
“Sooner than later I’d like to get people with some chemistry and I know people are going to read into the lines because Johnny’s with Ebs and Ders, Barzy between Bails and Ladder. I want to give Josh (Ho-Sang) a good look, I want to give Barzal a good look, I want to give Devon Toews a good look. I want to also have these young guys have great experiences and play some games.”
Weight’s first training camp as head coach was marked by his enthusiasm — “I’ve already lost my voice,” he said — and seeing his veteran players get accustomed to a host of new routines and new faces, with only Greg Cronin and video coach Matt Bertani held over from last season. New assistant Luke Richardson directed the defense and Kelly Buchberger and Scott Gomez will help with the forwards and run the power play, which likely gets installed into practices next week.
“You can tell how excited Doug is, how much energy he has for camp,” Beauvillier said. “We all fed off it a little bit last season and it’s great to be back with him from the start.”