New York Islanders restricted free agent David Ullstrom has signed with HC Lokomotiv, the KHL team announced.
The move does not rule out a return to the NHL -- and the Islanders can still retain his rights by qualifying him -- but Ullström wanted a one-way contract, which he told hockeysverige.se [magic Google Translate link] the Isles would not offer:
I am finished with the AHL after playing there on and off for three years. It's no secret that the dream is still to play in the NHL and I think this is the best route for me.
This past season was to be a pivotal one for Ullstöm, entering the final year of his entry level contract. Though a productive scorer in the AHL, a concussion in 2011-12 interrupted his rookie NHL season and once the lockout ended he had trouble keeping a spot in the Islanders lineup.
Injuries hurt him in 2012-13 too, with a groin injury spoiling much of March and April right after he had returned from a one-off assignment to Bridgeport and looked to reclaim a spot. But another reason he played only 20 of 48 regular season games with the Islanders was he was frequently the healthy scratchgoat after mistakes in the opening months of the season.
Ullström did appear in three of the Islanders' six playoff games, but as in the regular season it came in limited ice time.
If the coaching staff wasn't comfortable giving him a regular place in the lineup, the management team probably isn't going to be comfortable giving him a one-way deal.
As discussed around here for his entry on our Top 25 Islanders Under 25 list (where our crack staff put the 24-year-old at 11), the window of opportunity is getting smaller:
Depending on who's observing, David Ullstrom is either getting a raw deal from Islanders coaches, has something to learn about defense and/or the Islanders system, or a little of all of the above mixed with the worst luck of all: injuries.
At age 24, this will be Ullström's last year on our Top 25 Islanders Under 25 ballot. He's an RFA this summer due a qualifying offer from the Isles to retain his rights. His window of opportunity isn't exactly closing, but there is plenty of competition around the bend.
That competition was in evidence in Bridgeport this year, where Ullström started due to the NHL lockout but where younger players like Brock Nelson and Nino Niederreiter shined.
There is precedent for Islanders players going to, or going back to, Europe before returning to the Island, but the success rate is not high. Recent examples who eventually earned new NHL contracts after such detours are Jeremy Colliton and Jesse Joensuu.
But the roster-bubble nature of Colliton and Joensuu's respective returns tells you the challenge Ullström has in front of him, even if he plays lights-out for Lokomotiv.
For the Islanders, this opens up another spot in the organizational depth chart for 2013-14, but it's a spot that was always going to be in that bubble. Best of luck to him in his new adventure.
Thank you to the Islanders organisation, teammates and fans for three unforgetable years. We created memories that will remain forever. Thx— David Ullstrom (@d_ullstrom) June 19, 2013
Ullström was part of the Islanders' big 2008 draft class, which has seen all but four of its 13 players appear in the NHL (not all with the Isles).