In separate Twitter-based communiques this morning the Islanders announced both goalie Nathan Lawson and winger Jesse Joensuu have been returned to AHL Bridgeport. Neither move in late January 2011 is a good sign for their NHL futures, but both could also be back in a flash: The Sound Tigers play tonight against Providence -- and Michael Fornabaio in his weekly chat reports both will play. The Islanders next play Thursday at home versus Washington, and while they won't need a third goalie for that one, certainly this season has taught fans that roster needs are a day-to-day saga.
Between Rick DiPietro being the default starter and Kevin Poulin shining (until yesterday) in relief, Lawson has been the odd man out and has the rough small-sample stats (.885, 4.62) to indicate a confidence reboot and more reps are in order. But DiPietro sat after his 40-save win over the Sabres for "maintenance" and recovery "protocol," so it's doubtful we've seen the last of Lawson's campaign to carve out NHL backup credentials at age 27.
Joensuu, 23, is a different case. On the third year of his ELC, he's always been up front about how his audition to stick on these shores likely expires after this year. His 23 games and 3 goals this year are a NHL career high, but depth has meant his role has often been contained to fourth line and occasional higher line spot duty. You simply won't put up many points playing with Zenon Konopka and Matt Martin unless you're a clear top-line talent.
But a look at Joensuu's other linemates shows he's at least had a modest sniff of other situations at even strength.
From DobberHockey's line combo tools, here are Joensuu's top combos:
27.82% EV 58 JOENSUU,JESSE - 28 KONOPKA,ZENON - 17 MARTIN,MATT 20.99% EV 40 GRABNER,MICHAEL - 58 JOENSUU,JESSE - 51 NIELSEN,FRANS 8.07% EV 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 58 JOENSUU,JESSE - 44 SCHREMP,ROB 5.02% EV 58 JOENSUU,JESSE - 26 MOULSON,MATT - 91 TAVARES,JOHN 4.86% EV 58 JOENSUU,JESSE - 44 SCHREMP,ROB - 16 SIM,JONATHAN 4.12% EV 37 COLLITON,JEREMY - 40 GRABNER,MICHAEL - 58 JOENSUU,JESSE
Given his mix of opportunity and linemates, Joensuu's performance so far is, frankly, deserving of a spot among the Islanders' current top 12 forwards. But since that combo of opportunity and performance at this level has yet to prove him to be better than a bottom-six or even bottom-three guy, his long-term chances may depend on whether he can adapt to the unflattering role of 11-minute hit-and-be-safe winger. His mobility at this level has always been a concern (again, as it is for many guys who do time on the fourth line); the question was always whether there is a fit for his skill set, which adds a sometimes-used big body (34 hits in 23 games) and decent hands around the net to the picture.
Returning to Bridgeport gives Joensuu another chance to help the offense-starved Sound Tigers as well as for a Finn Named Jesse to get another shot of proverbial confidence in his game. Unless the health of the Islanders forwards takes a positive turn -- always possible, particularly as Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo near returns -- we'll likely see Joensuu again, and soon. Beyond 2010-11 though? That's the lingering question.