The New York Islanders are starting Anders Nilsson in goal against the Ottawa Senators tonight, their second of a traveling back-to-back. That means the unique March-April recipe is in full effect: Half a lineup of rookies, some of them quite good, actually.
How do the isles line up with all this youth? Well it's a bit of a mish-mash.
Line 1-ish: Mish-Mash
The top line is completely gone, literally: Kyle Okposo and John Tavares are hurt, Matt Moulson and his brief successor Thomas Vanek are traded.
So you have rookie Anders Lee, a big power forward whose future is not as a first-liner; Frans Nielsen, who is a biblical force but more comfortable in a "holy spirit" or "burning bush" kind of role; and Josh Bailey, who is okay in a third-line role except that he doesn't shoot.
Line 2-ish: Odd Parts
Rookie John Persson is literally the last legit NHL prospect/contract available in Bridgeport. Rookie Brock Nelson is a bona fide good player already, and has been up with the team all season already. Clutterbuck needs no introduction, but again -- more of a third-line guy.
Line 3-ish: Two Grinders and a Baby
It's probably a credit to rookie Ryan Strome that grinders Matt Martin and Colin McDonald have been so productive on his wings lately. Strome has exhibited lots of defensive responsibility and creative offensive movement. If these are his growing pains, sign me up for the full product.
Line 4: Looks like a fourth line
Rookie Mike Halmo probably isn't long for this league except for injury fill-in opportunities like this. Casey Cizikas is a bulldog but you wonder if playing with Martin and McDonald so much made them all three too "gritty fourth-liner" one-dimensional. Rookie Johan Sundstrom is billed as a responsible two-way pivot guy, so he's miscast here but just getting his feet wet in the NHL, and this after a few significant injury layoffs the last two years.
That's just the forwards.
Pairing 1: Yes, yes this.
In his first NHL season after some injury carnage delayed his arrival, rookie Calvin de Haan is looking like what you hoped the Islanders had found when they traded up excessively to draft him in 2009. He and Travis Hamonic make a nice peanut butter-and-jelly complement.
Pairing 2: Forging Identities
Thomas Hickey was drafted too high by the Kings and is too small for a top pair and maybe even middle pair role. But he is good, he knows what he's doing, and now that he's arrived he'll have a nice NHL career. Rookie Kevin Czuczman is big, just out of college, learning the ropes but looking really nice already.
Not sure these two are an ideal match, but they look like the third and fourth best options at present because next you have...
Pairing 3: The remainders
Matt Carkner is Matt Carkner: Not mobile, not adept with the puck, but considering his limited toolset he does what he can with what he has. Rookie Matt Donovan is mobile, a good puck handler, a little too loose with his decision-making, and somehow prone to take minor penalties like his partner.
There's a sense the organization isn't sold on Donovan, and there's a sense his play exhibits a "don't screw up or you'll be scratched" anxiety at times.
Rookie Anders Nilsson is very large. He has not yet shown how to translate that into being an NHL goalie in the recently Nordic giant trend. His last game was a good one, but it was against the Devils, a team that can't even score when given the entire ice and an infinite amount of time to beat the goalie one-on-one.
This is Islanders hockey, April 2014. This group (more or less) is 6-3-1 in its last 10, naturally.