Islanders center Leo Komarov celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers...

Islanders center Leo Komarov celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with teammates during second-period NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference playoff hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

After Leo Komarov scored what turned out to be the winning goal Saturday night in Game 3 of the Islanders’ second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto, someone asked Islanders coach Barry Trotz about Komarov, the 33-year-old grinding forward with the birdcage facemask on his helmet.

Trotz couldn’t help breaking into a grin as he started talking about the 5-11, 209-pounder who was born in Estonia, grew up in Finland, played in the KHL, was drafted by Toronto, and signed with the Islanders as a free agent in 2018.

“He’s obviously a seasoned pro, but, you know, he brings people into the fight,’’ Trotz said. “He’s sometimes not the prettiest guy to watch, but he’s a guy that gets his nose dirty all the time. He’s a guy that can help you in a lot of defensive situations. He can play multiple positions, and . . . he’s one of the guys that you always can have fun with, on a daily basis.

“Every team has characters,’’ he said. “Leo is a character.’’

He’s apparently the kind of character that you have to be on or around the team every day to appreciate, however. In a pregame Zoom news conference Sunday, before Game 4 of the series, Komarov didn’t exactly deliver a stand-up routine when asked about that.

“I'm just being myself,’’ he said, with an expressionless face. “Being on this team with all these guys, be yourself, and just enjoy it. I'm just trying to have fun and just play hard.’’

Komarov has 62 goals in seven seasons in the NHL, including 10 goals (and 30 assists) in 130 games over two seasons as an Islander. But clearly, Trotz, who took over as Islanders coach the same year Komarov joined the team, values him as much for his personality as for his on-ice production.

“I look at it [as] sort of like a house,’’ Trotz said Sunday when asked about the importance of having players with personality. “You just can't have someone who's a framer, and your whole house is done by a framer. You have a roofer; you have a framer; you have plumbing; you have electricians, all that. You need those different pieces. And part of the pieces are having characters on your team, and experience guys, and rookies, and all that. That's what makes a team fun.

“Sometimes, you're dealing with a 38- or 40-year-old and an 18-year-old,’’ he continued. “They're at different places in their lives. And so, the 18-year-old is going to have to rely on a really good pro to help him navigate, because . . . I have a voice and I want them to do it a certain way. And then a [veteran] player can just calm him down a little bit, and say, ‘You know, this is what he's talking about. He's on your side.’

“So, all the coaching and all the different aspects of veteran players and young players and that mixture makes it really good,’’ he said. “And Leo is one of those characters who has seen and gone through a lot, and still keeps you laughing at the same time.’’

More Islanders


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months