An offseason of upheaval is nearly over for the Islanders, with training camp opening next week. Change does bring opportunity, but it also means all players must prove their worth to the new brass.
“With the changes we’ve had, coaches and general manager, it’s always fun to prove yourself,” veteran right wing Jordan Eberle said after Tuesday’s informal skate at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
The daily roster for the player-run drills grew after the Labor Day weekend as the Islanders prepare for life without former captain John Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77-million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, and under no-nonsense president/GM Lou Lamoriello and Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz.
The first supervised training camp on-ice sessions will be on Sept. 14 and the preseason opener is Sept. 16 against the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum at 1 p.m. The Islanders and Flyers will also have a prospect game at Northwell Health Ice Center on Sept. 12 at 6 p.m.
“It’ll definitely be different,” center Casey Cizikas said of losing Tavares. “He was a huge part of our organization and I learned a lot from him about what it was like to be a professional. You never want to see guys like that leave. There are a lot of minutes to be made up.”
“Obviously he’s a loss to the team,” Eberle added. “But you’ve got to move on.”
The Islanders – who have missed the playoffs the past two seasons – were not expected to be among the Stanley Cup contenders this season with or without Tavares. Eberle, though, cited last season’s Devils, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2012 despite some dire preseason predictions, as an example of why the Islanders could thrive in an “underdog role.”
Eberle, 28, who had 25 goals and 39 assists in 81 games in his first season with the Islanders, is entering the final season of a six-year, $36-million deal he signed with the Oilers, meaning he could be on the move again this season if the Islanders don’t want to risk losing him without compensation as was the case with Tavares.
Eberle reported there have been no contract discussions yet, but his value to the team may only rise with Tavares’ departure. He formed a solid second line last season with Calder Trophy-winning center Mathew Barzal, expected to ascend to the top line, and Anthony Beauvillier.
The Islanders’ fourth line may be set as well after Lamoriello re-acquired left wing Matt Martin from the Maple Leafs with the intent of reuniting him with Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
“It’s always good being back with the mayor of Long Island,” Cizikas said.