With a three-day break between games and the talk of "passengers" creeping in and out of post-game assessments by Jack Capuano, the New York Islanders have returned winger David Ullstrom to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. He is still exempt from waivers for this re-assignment.
The 2013 season has not gone as many hoped for Ullström after he earned a spot on the NHL roster with strong lockout play (19 points, plus-11 in 26 games) for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He has appeared in 19 of the Islanders' 26 games this season -- scoring two goals, three assists, and a minus-2 in an average of 9:17 TOI per game -- but was on multiple occasions the healthy scratch in favor of enforcer Eric Boulton or another bottom-six forward.
Ullström has definitely made some mistakes of omission on some goals against -- but who hasn't? -- and they haven't carved out a role in the bottom six for him since they settled on a checking/energy line of Matt Martin and Colin McDonald centered by Casey Cizikas. A scan of his underlying numbers (e.g. Fenwick, a general proxy for puck possession and shot attempts for/against when he's on the ice) has him in the lower tier of Islanders forwards, but with some familiar names. Unlike Frans Nielsen on that list though, Ullström isn't usually matched up against high-caliber opposition.
In 2012-13, Ullström had four goals and four assists in 29 games with the Isles, averaging 10:58 of ice time.
On Twitter, Newsday's Arthur Staple noted that Bridgeport "plays on Tuesday. Ullstrom could be back after that, but hasn't been effective in and out of lineup. May stay there for a bit." Other possibilities:
- Calling up a different winger from Bridgeport as a reward for good play down there.
- Doing nothing. Sometimes they play Boulton. And Keith Aucoin has been scratched for several weeks, last playing Feb. 24 against the Hurricanes -- but the jury is far, far out on whether Aucoin can work on the wing.
- Removing someone from IR, where Matt Carkner (groin) and Jesse Joensuu (surgery) have long resided, but neither have been expected back any time soon. Carkner's last update was Feb. 27, where he was listed as being out indefinitely. UPDATE: Well yeah, about that. Joensuu is back for his first practice with the team Tuesday.
In any event, if they don't like certain habits they see in him now, Ullström should at least benefit from getting more playing time, and perhaps a fresh restart in the AHL. But clearly the competition for forward jobs is only going to increase heading into next season, so this season is important for the 23-year-old (turns 24 in April), who is in the last year of his Entry Level Contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.
So then: Is it a temporary demotion, or a meaningful stall in his career that creates the opening for someone else to fill his place? As always, time will tell.