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Islanders Gameday: Rob Schremp Winger would do you good

Last year Scott Gordon determined pretty quickly that waiver pickup and NHL rookie Rob Schremp Hockey was not going to work out on the wing, and Schremp made no secret about his discomfort there both then and early this season. This year the Islanders' center overload issue remained, and recently Gordon's interim replacement Jack Capuano begun the trial doghousing of Schremp for various lapses (generally: turnovers/decision-making, 16 games without a goal).

That's created the opening for the return to center of Josh Bailey, the center who'd slid left (and later, right) at various times due to team need (this year and last) or (in his rookie year) to jumpstart his game. While Schremp's return from the doghouse entailed a spell on the fourth-line left wing, Blake Comeau's concussion opened up a spot on Bailey's wing, where Schremp scored and added a second on the powerplay. Plus, a new development: Schremp is now open to the shift.

I'm not making predictions on how Schremp will adjust and I'm not rehashing the debate of Bailey at 21 vs. Schremp at 24 that pops up here every few days, but suffice to say if Schremp adjusts well, it's a significant step for the Islanders. This calls for Gang of Four...

A change will do you good
I always knew it would
Sometimes I'm thinking that I love you
But I know it's only hockey

Your passes so sweet
Your turnovers so sour

The sins of RSH
Are simply sins of goal lust
If he shifts and Bailey centers
We won't be talking bust

--Gang of Four, "Damaged Goods"

"It’s going a lot better than I thought it would," Schremp said. "Last year they tried me out at wing at the beginning of the year and I wasn’t very good. I mean, I think now that I’ve played a little bit in the league. I mean not that much, but 80-some (88) games and I’ve learned the areas of the ice. Playing wing now is an easier adjustment because I understand the game up here and where guys are coming or where they’re going to force you. I feel really comfortable playing there now. I didn’t think that I would, but I have kind of surprised myself a little bit. I like it."

...Playing center has different responsibilities than the wing, but Schremp has liked the change.

"It’s less complicated," Schremp said. "You have to be disciplined enough to stay in your spot because as a centerman you have that natural instant to want to go down and help down low, get the puck and start the breakout. But as a wing, you kind of have to wait for the puck to come to you and you have to trust that your centerman is going to do his job."

Schremp, I think we all can agree, has a good shot. He's a creative playmaker -- if a bit perimeterish and certainly lacking size -- and he has the shooter's confidence of a sniper. His offensive potential is something the Isles would rather not sit. But he's also not the most reliable steward of his own zone, which is a pretty big issue for a center.

Josh Bailey, I think we can all agree, is an insightful passer but he doesn't shoot nearly enough. He also has far better defensive instincts [see this FanPost for an extensive look] than Schremp and the tendency -- perhaps to a fault -- to mind the store in his own zone. Sometimes when people say after a game that Bailey was "invisible" (offensively), I swear it's because they didn't see him on their screen -- he was cleaning up while his wingers were heading out on hail mary forays and leaving a mess of things behind.

Which isn't to absolve Bailey for his weak production this year -- despite uneven use and linemates. Bailey needs to shoot more, needs to drive play more once in the offensive zone, and generally needs to act like a guy with some of the better skills on the ice more. I don't buy that his stalling this year is all due to being out of position (not at left wing, anyway, where he's produced before; I do think asking him to play right wing with Comeau and Schremp was too much though).

Still, the Islanders are better off if Bailey is at center and Schremp is a productive winger. The conundrum earlier this year was that Schremp was producing some now (and didn't want to shift from center), whereas Bailey -- save for the opening weeks -- wasn't producing in either position.

But as Schremp alluded to in the quotes above, a center more than any other has major responsibilities in all three zones. Bailey has awareness and the ability to win puck battles that Schremp does not have (and acumen on the defensive side is something that's frankly rare in a player Bailey's age). Just like a center, a winger can lug the puck up ice, cross lanes and be creative to his heart's content; Schremp could still do that. But a center cannot afford to be slow to read the moment-by-moment needs and emergencies in his own zone. That is not Schremp's strength, but it is one Bailey has displayed in juniors and the NHL.

With Schremp at center, the Islanders have too many top-three centers in John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Bailey and Schremp, and someone has to move. But with Schremp at wing -- and if he excels there -- suddenly the Islanders have two top centers plus another with potential to be a two-way one, and they have one more (much-needed) sniping winger. Suddenly Schremp can be kept or dangled on the trade market without a team knowing the Isles need to move someone. Suddenly he becomes a strength -- a powerplay specialist with a regular 5-on-5 role -- and not an awkward surplus.

Some will always say, simply, "Schremp is soft." Well, players' fates aren't sealed at 24 (much less at 21), and there are plenty of "soft" forwards who can make a living in this league. With Schremp giving wing another shot, he may be one of them.

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The Leafs are playing a back-to-back after winning at home over Atlanta 5-4 last night. In that game, they took six penalties in the first period. Some were of the soft variety reflecting officiating the Islanders are all too familiar with. Others were of the idiotic variety but were met with predictable cries of innocence (namely, Mike Komisarek and Dion Phaneuf, who have never committed a foul). The Thrashers converted twice to make it 2-0 and I thought surely the Leafs were done.

They weren't. They got it back to 2-2, conceded a deflating go-ahead goal to Atlanta for 3-2, yet still came back again and won it in the third period. Their PK is still poor, and Colby Armstrong is still shamelessly without conscience, but they pulled it out.

Phil Kessel, who was the topic of this week's round of Toronto media frenzy (Next week: Tomas Kaberle's no-trade clause, episode 1367!) went without a goal for the 11th straight game but again had some chances as Ron Wilson mixed his lines up and saved Kessel from another game playing with grinders.

Kessel is no doubt due for another scoring burst, and the Islanders no longer have the Leafs hex known as Dwayne Roloson, so maybe the Leafs come in with some mojo. Or maybe they take dumb penalties, make the Isles PP look good, and decide "You know what? We won last night. Let's take it easy."

Lineup Notes

  • I'd be fine if Kevin Poulin took over Roli's title as Leaf killer.
  • Bruno Gervais was the extra defenseman at practice yesterday, and I see no reason why not to give Milan Jurcina and Ty Wishart another look together. But I'm in a basement, not behind a bench.
  • Michael Grabner's torrid run has him just two goals off the team lead (Tavares and Moulson have 18) and in fifth on the team in points, ahead of Frans Nielsen and Schremp.
  • For now Comeau's concussion means Jeremy Colliton is on Schremp's opposite wing with Bailey. I'm curious when Comeau comes back: Will he be put right back in on the left side, or will he be asked to try the right again?

There will be more stuff up today between now and the evening game thread, but you can leave your FIG pick here -- via reply to the first FIG comment -- if you want to.