Tanner Fritz pushed his way to the right post and snapped home the rebound of Brandon Davidson’s blue-line shot to give the Islanders an early lead Saturday.
It was exactly the type of effort the Islanders, in full evaluation mode for next season, want to see from the 26-year-old rookie right wing, scrapping to prove he deserves a permanent role in the NHL.
“I want to try to get them thinking over the summer that I can be a player that can play in the NHL and prove to them that I’m worthy to play in this league,” Fritz said.
The Islanders, who were off Sunday after Saturday’s 4-3 loss at the Devils, have three games left in this second straight season of missing the playoffs. They will face the Flyers on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Islanders coach Doug Weight has had one-on-one discussions with some of his players, including Fritz, to stress the importance of making a good impression during the season’s final week. Fritz is one of nine forwards currently on the Islanders’ roster with a contract for next season.
Fritz’s goal 1:15 into the first period against the Devils gave him three goals and four assists in 32 games since he was called up from Bridgeport (AHL) on Jan. 1.
Fritz, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State who eventually earned an entry-level deal after being invited to training camp in 2016, certainly has been given an extended audition.
With Josh Bailey and fourth-line center Casey Cizikas unavailable, Weight started Fritz on John Tavares’ top line with Anders Lee against the Devils. Fritz logged 17:10, including 1:35 on the power play. It was only two seconds shy of his season high and only the third time since his recall that he’s had more than 17 minutes of ice time.
“I think I’ve had some opportunities to go up and down the lineup,” Fritz said. “My first 10 games, I was a little slow, a little hesitant, just kind of nervous. I feel like the last 15 games, I kind of have proven I can play up and down. I don’t think I’m going to be a guy that plays top minutes.”
Weight has been using Fritz on the second power-play unit near the crease in a puck-retrieval role and also to try and clean up on rebounds, as he did for his even-strength goal against the Devils. It’s different from his power-play role with Bridgeport, where he was used more on the half-wall and with the puck on his stick.
Said Fritz, “I’m more of a guy to try and get the puck and get the puck to the skill guys and let them do the work.”