Mathew Barzal is acknowledged as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. He believes Pierre Engvall has enough speed to almost match him and, before Islanders training camp, said he would enjoy the chance for them to work as linemates.
“He flies down the wing,” Barzal said at the team’s charity golf outing on Sept. 18. “I think there could be something there. We’ll see.”
Of course, that’s for coach Lane Lambert to decide. But identifying a complementary left wing for Barzal’s top line with center Bo Horvat is one of the priorities in camp.
“I mean, the sooner the better,” said Lambert, who gave his players Sunday off but will have them back on the ice Monday. “But you want to be thorough as well. It’s just a matter of finding the right piece. Certainly, by Game 1, we’d like to have something going. But things change over the course of the first month of the season.”
The Islanders will open the regular season against the Sabres on Oct. 14 at UBS Arena.
More immediately, they will open their six-game preseason schedule against the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden before hosting the Flyers on Wednesday night.
Based on the first three days of camp, Engvall is not likely to start the preseason with Horvat and Barzal. He skated mainly with second-line center Brock Nelson and right wing Kyle Palmieri after being acquired from the Maple Leafs on Feb. 28 and has been skating with former Ranger Julien Gauthier, another speedster, in camp.
Meanwhile, Barzal and Horvat have been working with fast-skating prospect Arnaud Durandeau, but Durandeau and Gauthier are long shots to earn top-six minutes right out of camp.
“I haven’t thought about that,” said Engvall, who agreed to a seven-year, $21 million extension on July 1 that locked him in as one of the Islanders’ core players. “When you get to camp, you’ve just got to skate it through as fast as you can. We’re not the ones picking the lines. I have no clue who I’m going to play with, but we have so many good players on the team.
“Barzy is a great skater but, also, he’s a really good passer. If I would play with him, I would probably just try to use my skating. Horvat, the same thing, a good passer but a strong guy, too.”
Engvall, 27, had five goals and four assists in 18 games after the trade and added a goal and an assist in six playoff games. He has totaled 47 goals and 45 assists in 244 career games, but earning top-six minutes with the Maple Leafs was tough with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander on the roster.
“I think I had more to give even back then,” Engvall said. “Maybe I can’t bring everything I had because I had a more defensive role. To play a little more offensive role, you can play out more and show more what you can do all over the ice.”