Travis Hamonic turned 24 a month ago, but he is the leader of the Islanders' defense. That was something of a dubious honor last season, when the Isles' goaltending and own-zone play contributed to an average of 3.18 goals per game allowed, third-worst in the league. There also was the 29th-ranked penalty kill, another sign of distress in the defensive zone.
With Andrew MacDonald gone to the Flyers, Hamonic has by far played the most games for the Isles (252) among the defensemen in camp. He's second to Lubomir Visnovsky in NHL service time among the dozen defensemen in camp who have NHL experience. And Hamonic believes that although there have been no major additions, his corps can be vastly improved this season.
"Everyone's always saying it's this or it's that, but we're confident as a defense," Hamonic said as the 63 Isles campers gathered for the first time at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday for physical and neurological exams before hitting the ice on Friday. "I know we all have to up our games, so we all have to improve. We all want better.
"I'm tired of going home and watching the playoffs on TV, man. I'm real sick of it and so is everyone in the organization. We want to be in the playoffs and compete for a championship, and I believe we can do that. I've believed it for a lot of years. That's why I signed my deal because I think we can win with this group."
Hamonic signed a seven-year, $27-million deal last summer after playing his best season as a pro during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. In the playoffs, Hamonic made it his personal goal to throw Evgeni Malkin off his game. The Penguins came away with a six-game series win, but Hamonic was among the Islanders who got noticed for his postseason play.
Last year was a different story. Paired with MacDonald, who struggled through a subpar season before being dealt to Philly at the trade deadline, Hamonic's play slipped as well. The goaltending was the biggest defensive impediment, but Hamonic was not the top-pair, shutdown defenseman he wanted to be.
He also suffered a concussion against the Stars on Jan. 12 that cost him 12 games.
"Everyone knows the way those injuries work -- I feel fine right now, anyone can feel fine, and all it takes is another hit," he said. "It's like any injury to me. You can heal the best you can and if you break an ankle, that's the way it is. It's not going to change the way I play and it certainly won't be in the back of my mind. I'm going to go out there and play the way I usually do, and hopefully my guardian angel is out there and nothing happens."
Visnovsky missed 58 games with a concussion, so the Isles' two most senior defensemen will get the chance Friday to step back on the ice and take the first strides toward healthier seasons.