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From four members of the Islanders' 2010 draft class to some veteran minor pros, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers offer a lot to watch as the preseason schedule begins.
After a week of camp on Long Island, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers begin a back-to-back pair of preseason games tonight, their only two before the season starts for real a week from Friday.
A key source will be ConnPost.com Sound Tigers beatwriter Michael Fornabaio, who has some directions here and will try to Tweet live here. (And if you follow him on Twitter, or would like to, do send him feedback on the preference questions in the first "here" above.)
Tonight the baby Isles play the Providence Bruins in Marlborough, Mass., and Friday is against the Manchester Monarchs at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. A veritable New England party! No doubt many Moulson/Quick brothers-in-law will be on the scene.
[Update: Sounds like Friday's game will be aired on the official team site.]
Update 2: Lineups - Sounds like Ken Reiter backs up Anders Nilsson tonight, while McDonald, Cizikas, Ullstrom, Persson, Hamonic, Donovan will sit.
What are the challenges, the newcomers, the jobs to be won as the NHL lockout completely changes the angle of this camp? Consider it like this:
The Locked-Out Star
No Sound Tiger "deserves" to be here less than Travis Hamonic, the best defenseman on the Islanders' NHL club who by age and by contract finds himself assigned to the AHL. At 135 NHL games since he last played in Bridgeport, he has little to prove. But since he's a shutdown guy in the NHL, maybe this assignment gives him a chance to re-explore his offensive game. (Yes, trying to look for bright sides in the lockout. Not easy.)
The Class of 2010
As mentioned frequently so far in camp, the most intriguing line is the trio of 2010 draft picks who are embarking on their first real AHL seasons. Nino Niederreiter had a brief AHL rehab stint in 2011-12 and Brock Nelson had a brief ATO after leaving North Dakota last season, but essentially those two and Kirill Kabanov represent a whole lot of promise mixed with pro inexperience.
Niederreiter is the one with the pro experience but also the one possibly carrying the most baggage. (Quite a statement, considering Kabanov's circuitous path to this point.) Regardless, the refreshed Nino, pledging that he's "not a grinder" after being stuck so often next to the likes of Jay Pandolfo last year, has a chance to play with some true creative talent. They are young; they should be fun.
And of course there is one more member of the 2010 draft class who will get nowhere near the attention of those other three: Jason Clark. It was an odd summer for the Islanders, with few free agents to re-sign and a big need addressed at the draft before July 1. Clark's signing in July -- after just two injury-limited years at Wisconsin, came as a surprise.
Unlike either of the above groups, several Sound Tigers entered this summer uncertain where they'd land: They might have expected to start in the AHL, but the NHL was their very achievable near-term goal. David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas up front, Ty Wishart, Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and Aaron Ness on the blueline. All have reasons to aspire for an NHL job whenever there is an NHL season. For now, they get bonus development time in the AHL without feeling like it's a demotion.
Ullstrom in particular has impressed coach Scott Pellerin and -- adding another wrinkle -- he's been skating back at center after excelling at wing last year. We'll see how long that lasts, as key center Cizikas had been out nursing a groin.
Mike Halmo was undrafted but has a reputation that precedes him. Brought the crazy, brought some talent, stuck up for teammates. He'll try to do the same in the pros, and just might find a Matt Martin-like role when it's all said and done.
John Persson impressed at WHL Red Deer and he impressed in his brief ATO at the end of last season. Out one side of our mouth, we worry about over-hyping Islanders prospects. Out the other side, we see an intriguing player like Persson who isn't even in their top five.
Speaking of which, Johan Sundstrom is a smart two-way player. Rare for a player his age to have the kind of two-way hockey I.Q. that makes coaches sleep better at night. I'm not invoking the name of Frans Nielsen, but I'm just saying. He has promising brains and he's 6'3", 200 lbs. The 2011 2nd-round pick has some nice features.
Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, so close in age (24 days) and so different in styles, get to battle it out for organizational supremacy. They are ready for the competition. It's crazy to think about, but depending on how self-defeating the NHL labor situation gets, they could be incumbents for the NHL job(s) whenever the big league resumes.
Meanwhile, goalies seldom like three-crease situations, but Ken Reiter is in the fold out of Minnesota-Duluth.
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There are other storylines and characters. We didn't even get to the versatile brother-in-law, Sean Backman, nor the assortment of tough guys (Blair Riley, Brandon Defazio, even Jon Landry) who will protect all these prized prospects when things get a little too Federal League.
Point is, the NHL is shooting itself and it hardly deserves our attention. But since we're addicted to the Islanders anyway, this year in Bridgeport offers enough Islanders-related storylines to hold our attention.