Kevin Czuczman -- it's improbably pronounced "Churchman" -- had a few suitors when his hockey season ended at Lake Superior State last weekend. The 23-year-old defenseman was one of the top college free agents available this year, falling into a category of player who didn't shine enough as a teenager to be drafted but blossomed in the NCAA hockey world.
The Islanders pursued such free agents previously, losing out on defensemen Danny DeKeyser, who chose the Red Wings in 2012, and Andrej Sustr, who chose the Lightning the same year. But the Islanders got Czuczman.
They had been observing him for a long time and there were plenty of connections for the Ontario-born defenseman. "Jeff Napierala, their scout, he's been watching me since I was a freshman. He saw something in me and he deserves a lot of credit," Czuczman said after his first practice with the Islanders Thursday at IceWorks. "Doug Weight [Islanders assistant coach and a former Lake Superior player] has talked to me a lot, too. And I worked out this summer with John Tavares and Ryan Strome.
"There's a level of comfort here for me. That was a big key."
Czuczman spent a large portion of the Islanders' practice taking in instruction from coach Jack Capuano and assistant Brent Thompson, who coaches the defensemen. Czuczman might not make his NHL debut right away, with the Islanders hosting the Sharks Friday night and the Sabres Saturday night, but it will come soon. His two-year contract stipulates that this first season counts toward his NHL service time no matter where he plays. He will earn a prorated portion of $925,000 this season, then $1.775 million next season.
"That's my goal," Czuczman said. "This is a totally different game than in college. There's a lot of structure here, where college was basically run-and-gun."
The lefthanded-shooting defenseman clearly is bringing a fresh outlook to his new home.
"With the move to the Barclays Center," he said, "I feel there's only positive things to come for this team."
Notes & quotes: With Michael Grabner (concussion) sidelined indefinitely, the Islanders called up Johan Sundstrom from Bridgeport. The 21-year-old has seven goals and 10 assists in 38 games, primarily at center; he'll likely play wing if he makes his NHL debut Friday night.
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