We'll say this about the New York Islanders' continuing splurge of defensemen acquisitions that goes back to the 2012 NHL Draft: At least they're going young more often than not.
Gone are the last-minute imports of yore, Mike Mottau (always problematic when playing on his off-side) and Mark Eaton (problematic, period.) Lubomir Visnovsky was on the old side but provided a skill set they needed. (Or will provide ... in theory.) The Infamous Seven blueliners selected at the draft were followed by the last week's gluttonous plundering of the waiver wire for every Jon, Brian and Hickey they could find.
Today's edition is Brian Strait, with all due sympathy to Howie and Butch for having to finesse his pronunciation vs. Mark Streit. Strait, 25 and a Boston University product, has more NHL experience than Jon Finley (five games) and Thomas Hickey (none). He was the Penguins playoff replacement for Paul Martin after Martin's postseason injury.
Another left shot, Strait is a little bigger (6'1", 201) than Hickey and, unlike Hickey, was never billed as an offensive defenseman. Both have the opportunity to provide some solid depth for the Islanders, so it was worth the nominal waiver wire prices to claim them.
We asked Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh for his impressions on Strait, whom he hoped would go unclaimed:
If the Penguins really wanted to keep Strait at a 6/7/8 guy they could have easily sent 21-year old (and waiver exempt) Simon Despres back to the minors. As it stands though, Strait was the odd man out.
I think Strait is a potential Group VI UFA after this season-- though admittedly I haven't studied the provisions of the new CBA, so that may or may not be accurate.
Either way, I'm disappointed he's gone, as he could be a guy to grow into an NHL niche. Strait's obviously a bottom-pairing type guy, but I think he could probably handle some 2nd PK time. He didn't have a great year in the minors this season (0 goals, 0 assists in 26 games) but the WB/S Pens blue-line was stacked and they rotated roles and healthy scratches a lot, so it wasn't a great situation for anyone.
Strait's best features are keeping it simple. He doesn't have great size, isn't a big hitter, isn't going to wow you with a shot or pass or anything like that. He can be a very steady player -- keeping good defensive gap control, stick-on-puck to deflect opponent's shots/passes, will play the body a little for positional play. Definitely not a guy you'd buy a ticket to see, but if you have an appreciation for the littler things, you will like watching Strait play.
With opening night 23-man rosters due today at 5 p.m. EST, things are shaping up in interesting ways. News will break this afternoon, so the following is not official. But at present you could place Josh Bailey (knee) and Jesse Joensuu (groin) on IR, Lubomir Visnovsky on suspension, and create the following moveable parts until someone is ready to return and force a roster move:
21 non-goalie bodies
Moulson - Tavares - Okposo
Grabner - Nielsen - Boyes
Ullstrom - Cizikas - McDonald
Martin - Reasoner - Aucoin
MacDonald - Hamonic
Streit - Martinek
Hickey - Carkner
Strait - Finley
Aside from the new waiver imports not having much time to get their bearings, there is some promise there in terms of upgrading the blueline over last season -- the question is by how much.
At front, big questions remain concerning whether Brad Boyes cashes in this new opportunity, how much Colin McDonald can provide on wing, and whether Marty Reasoner rebounds. But with Bailey and Joensuu due back early in the season -- to say nothing of the forward prospects in Bridgeport -- replacements should not require turning to the waiver wire.
The experiments begin Saturday night.