The Islanders have until Monday to finalize their initial 23-man roster for the regular season. It certainly seems the last two or three forwards have yet to be selected and coach Lane Lambert acknowledged after Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Devils at UBS Arena in their penultimate preseason game that the pool of candidates has “expanded.”
Which means Nikita Soshnikov, a diminutive, 28-year-old who spent the past three seasons back home in the Russian KHL, is in the thick of the mix with Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, Ross Johnston and, perhaps, Aatu Raty.
Soshnikov had an assist against the Devils and was strong on the forecheck, Bellows had an assist and was also strong physically while getting top-six minutes and Raty, sent down to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport and returned in 24 hours, had a laser-like goal to complete the scoring.
Wahlstrom, who does not require waivers to be sent to Bridgeport, remains out with an unspecified injury but did skate on his own on Thursday.
“It’s just trying to win a spot, that’s all it is,” said Soshnikov, who agreed to a one-year, one-way deal worth $750,000 to return to North America. “There’s nothing that’s going to be given.”
Soshnikov skated on Raty’s left wing along with Simon Holmstrom, also brought back from Bridgeport with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas unavailable. Bellows was on Brock Nelson’s left wing with Anthony Beauvillier. Johnston scored a goal using his big body to deflect defenseman Paul LaDue’s shot from the point.
The 5-11, 190-pound Soshnikov now has two points in four preseason games after getting up ice for the opening goal in the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the Devils on Sept. 27.
“I like it,” Lambert said of Soshnikov’s forechecking. “That’s part of his speed. And what he does, too, is he’s finishing. He had three hits tonight and that’s what he needs to do.”
Soshnikov has eight goals and eight assists in 87 career NHL games for the Maple Leafs and Blues. Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was Toronto’s GM during Soshnikov’s tenure there.
“Mostly, he knew me and he knew what I can bring,” Soshnikov said. “When I left [the NHL], I left with injuries and I had an issue and I fixed that in Russia. I always wanted to play in the NHL so I decided, ‘Why not?’ and I’d try.”
Soshnikov can also bolster the penalty kill but he’s never proven to be a top scorer.
Wahlstrom and Bellows, former first-rounders with hard shots, provide the potential for more offensive production. Lambert said the time sidelined will not count against Wahlstrom.
Notes & quotes: Semyon Varlamov made 25 saves in his first complete game of the preseason . . . Defenseman Noah Dobson, Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier had the other goals for the Islanders . . . Defenseman Scott Mayfield also remained unavailable . . . Goalie Cory Schneider, defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Parker Wotherspoon and forwards Hudson Fasching, Arnaud Durandeau, Cole Bardreau and Andy Andreoff all cleared waivers and were re-assigned to Bridgeport.