The Islanders have several defense prospects challenging for a roster spot. And then there’s Luca Sbisa.
The 28-year-old Italian, who grew up in Switzerland, has 495 games of NHL experience with the Flyers, Ducks, Canucks and Golden Knights and was part of Vegas’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup final last season as an expansion team.
But, unable to land a contract as an unrestricted free agent, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound Sbisa is one of two veteran defensemen in training camp on a professional tryout offer, along with Dennis Seidenberg, 37, who played for the Islanders the past two seasons.
The Islanders, in the midst of a stretch of six preseason games in seven days which continues against the Devils on Thursday night at Barclays Center, were off on Wednesday.
“We picked this team because they’ve been straightforward with us from the start,” said Sbisa, an alternate captain with Vegas. “They were really interested and I like the fact that it’s a new coaching staff. It’s going to be the best chance to crack the lineup. It’s a really good group of defensemen, a lot of young guys are battling for the same thing.”
Devon Toews, 24, has had a solid training camp, as has Noah Dobson, the 11th overall pick this June who was paired with Sbisa in Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Flyers at Barclays Center.
David Quenneville, 20, scored the lone goal on Tuesday night. Bode Wilde, picked 41st this June, and Swiss-born Yannick Rathgeb and Sebastian Aho, both 22, and Mitch Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon, both 21, also are among the camp competitors.
“I can draw a lot of similarities with what I had to go through last year,” Sbisa said. “We had 12 defensemen on one-way deals. I had a good training camp and I started on the top defensive pairing. Then injuries started to hit me.”
Sbisa was limited to 30 regular-season games for Vegas and was on injured reserve four times, including missing the last six weeks of the season and the first round of the playoffs with a hand injury.
When healthy, Sbisa can provide a solid defensive presence with his shot blocking, physicality and penalty killing. He was also part of perhaps the biggest goal of the Golden Knights’ first season, as he set up Ryan Reaves’ decisive goal in a 2-1 win over the Jets in Game 5 of the Western Conference final, sending Vegas into the Cup final against Barry Trotz’s Capitals.
“Right now, you see every veteran is paired with a pure rookie,” Trotz said. “To get a real true evaluation, you start putting together more of what you think might be pairs.”
Sbisa has dressed for two of the Islanders’ first three preseason games, logging a team-high 23:06 as a minus-1 on Tuesday after playing 19:38 with two blocked shots in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum as he was paired with Aho.
“As a PTO, you’ve almost got to think everything has to be perfect but you have to be realistic and realize that’s not going to be the case,” Sbisa said. “I’m happy I’m in the lineup because I’ve got to be able to showcase myself.”