Granting that injuries tend to force most teams to go eight to 10 deep on their blueline in any given year, and setting aside that no one knows whether 2012-13 will be an 82-game season, a 60-game season, or a mirage, it's time for another "Which Is More Likely?" poll.
Namely: Which defensemen will win the #5, #6 and #7 jobs out of camp, and which one(s) end(s) up playing more games? If you assume a top four of Travis Hamonic, Mark Streit, Lubomire Visnovsky (we hope) and Andrew MacDonald, how will the rest fill in?
The team sounds high on new addition Matt Carkner, signed to a three-year deal (out from under Colorado's finger tips, apparently), so you might pencil him in at #5 even if you, like Bartleby, would prefer not to. That leaves two slots and many candidates.
The unperson from last season, Wishart saw only one NHL game in 2011-12, and that was as an emergency fill-in on a road trip when Steve Staios suffered a sudden bout of game-time decision. That said, Wishart is retained on a two-way contract that would require waivers for him to be assigned to Bridgeport again. He's the de facto #7 on at least one depth chart, though his efforts and role in AHL Bridgeport were valued last season.
Ness is the underdog upstart of the three Isles-drafted Bridgeport prospects who impressed most in camp, got the first call-up, and played the most NHL games (nine). People downgrade his chances because of his size -- and maybe that factor hinges on who he'd pair with -- but he is a real candidate and could easily be the best one.
His skating, elusiveness, and first pass impressed last year.
Calvin de Haan
De Haan has the highest draft pedigree of the lot, what with the Islanders trading up twice to grab him in the first round of 2009. But by now that's history. His injuries have been the bigger factor in his development so far, and if he's in camp healthy and avoids further setbacks, his mobility and defensive smarts* may tip the scales.
*De Haan was originally seen as more of an offensive defenseman, but recently it's his defensive awareness and role that has garnered attention.
Donovan is like the not-too-hot, not-too-cold porridge in between Ness and de Haan. He's by no means huge, but he's more physical than the other two and possesses a generally balanced all-around game. While Ness got nine games and de Haan one in the NHL last season, Donovan received the final, three-game baptism in April.
He might end up being the best all-around performer of the three. He might be who they like best in three years. But right now it's a toss up, with camp (or the AHL season, if the NHL's is delayed) and injury luck looming large.
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So based on history and the current roster, one of these four is likely to play 40 NHL games in 2012-13, and another might very well play 20.
Which among them draw your bets?