One of hockey's parlor games is the endless debate over line combinations. With the NHL lockout pushing that focus to the AHL and overseas, that game carries on.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers began the preseason with one look, highlighted by a line of 2010 NHL Draft picks who have the eye of Islanders fans:
Persson – Ullstrom - McDonald
Niederreiter – Nelson – Kabanov
Halmo – Sundstrom – Backman
Gallant – Clark – MacKay
DeFazio – Watkins – Riley
That Brock Nelson line with Nino Niederreiter and Kirill Kabanov on the wings is intriguing, and by profile it makes sense: A generally smart two-way center, a crafty puck possession winger, and a big, talented power forward.
But the other defining attribute of that line, at least at this juncture, is their inexperience. Niederreiter had one nightmare of a rookie year at the NHL level, Nelson's AHL debut last spring showed he needed work, and this season will be Kabanov's first taste of the pros.
No surprise then, that after last weekend's preseason games, coach Scott Pellerin introduced some new combos that they've largely stuck with this week:
Niederreiter - Cizikas - McDonald
Ullstrom - Sundstrom - Persson
DeFazio - Nelson - Kabanov
Riley - Watkins - Clark
Gallant - Backman - Halmo
Those aren't stacked according to rank, exactly. (No way Sean Backman and Mike Halmo end up as extras.) But the combos show you what the staff are thinking.
The all-Swede line of David Ullstrom, Johan Sundstrom and John Persson actually got its debut mid-way through the second preseason game. It's a good sign that Sundstrom is the center there, as he has more promise in that position and Ullstrom pretty well showed last year that his best impact is on the wing.
As for Niederreiter, he's getting his best opportunity and also a little bit of shelter by playing next to Casey Cizikas, by far Bridgeport's most accomplished center at this point. (Meanwhile, Colin McDonald is an accomplished vet on the wing opposite Niederreiter.)
Again, it's easy to read too much into line combos. That's why it's a fun parlor game. But there is something to it, there are legit reasons coaches seek the best combos, and at this stage the mix of young talent and veterans provides some interesting fodder for Pellerin.
For Islanders fans, it's hard not to get excited about the prospects and development opportunities here. Finally, the far club is oozing with actual prospects to farm. When you can field more than two lines of forward prospects who have a decent chance at the NHL, then you know things have changed in Islanders Country.
And we haven't even gotten to Bridgeport's blueline yet.
Programing note: The Connecticut Post's Michael Fornabaio will have his first Sound Tigers chat of the season today at 1:30 p.m. EDT.