We still don’t know what the Islanders’ opening line-up will look like on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. So this might end up being a lot of words about nothing.
But putting veteran forward P.A. Parenteau on waivers today for the possible purpose of playing any or all of three rookies this season signals a pretty significant shift for the Islanders. Whether that shift is one that helps them win more games remains to be seen.
Could mean Barzal/Beauvillier are here for a bit or to stay. Could also mean Josh Ho-Sang gets a call back much sooner than we thought.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) October 10, 2016
Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang all played well (and with a lot of visible energy) during training camp and in preseason games. Barzal and Ho-Sang each had a goal and two assists in their games, and Beauvillier had one of each. The former two showed a lot of creativity with the puck on offense, something the Islanders often don’t have enough of, while Beauvillier showed his versatility, logging minutes at center, on the wing, on the power play and especially on the penalty kill where he demonstrated pretty good defensive awareness for a 19-year old.
These are the kinds of things you want to see from your first round draft picks (FYI, Michael Dal Colle had an okay camp, too. But the big power forward still needs some time to hone his game in the AHL). Whether they make the team or not, the kids showed they were closer to the incumbents than anyone realized, and forced management to make some difficult decisions.
A few days ago, the biggest worry about roster cuts was the possibility that defenseman Ryan Pulock, who was a power play weapon and a playoff regular last season, would be sent to the AHL or otherwise sat in place of newly-signed old guy Dennis Seidenberg. Now, a new worry emerges. NHL general managers are a strange lot, but chances are Parenteau will claimed by another team tomorrow, removing a useful veteran from the mix.
Meanwhile, news came down out of Philadelphia this morning that the Flyers will keep rookies Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov on the roster. The Flyers fans in my Twitter timeline sure seemed jazzed by the idea of these prospects getting their shot at the big time because they had outstanding camps. Why wasn’t I feeling the same joy? (Don’t worry. I’ll ask my therapist this soon enough)
I don’t think the situations are exactly similar. For one, the Flyers didn’t waive a projected first liner to make room for Konecny or Provorov. For another, it still remains to be seen where (or even if) any of Barzal, Beauvillier or Ho-Sang slot in. Remember, the Islanders are still coached by Jack Capuano, the guy who plays his fourth line more than any other coach in the league and the single biggest reason Brian Strait has logged any NHL minutes at all.
In fairness to Capuano, he has praised the kids during camp and has even bestowed upon Beauvillier in particular the highest honor he can give by saying the youngster, “does things the right way.” But there is a question about how and how much they’ll get used if and when they get used at all.
What Capuano's looking for from all his players, but especially the younger ones, is their play away from the puck. If either Beauvillier or fellow 2015 first-rounder Mathew Barzal can crack the Islanders roster, they won't be getting a top-six role, so the coach wants to see a demonstrated ability to defend. He's used Beauvillier heavily on the PK and has been impressed with what he's seen.
"From Day 1, you can just tell he takes pride in his ability away from the puck," Capuano said. "But at the same time he has great offensive instincts on the power play and in the 3-on-3 in overtime. He's going about his business, he's doing the right things and he's going to get an opportunity here as we move forward."
Part of me wonders (and has wondered all offseason) if they’ll have enough to stay afloat in the crowded Metro Division. Playing the kids is a gamble that could easy go sideways if it turns out they aren’t ready.
And should that gamble have included waiving Parenteau, the 20-goal scorer on the bargain contract? I don’t think it should have. But that’s just me. In his career, the well-traveled 33-year old has been a reliable possession driver and double digit goal-scorer (well, except for that one year in Montreal). In an offseason of big losses and expensive and older additions, bringing in Parenteau for one year at $1.25 million was the one move Garth Snow made that was more or less universally lauded. Throw in the fact that Parenteau is close with John Tavares and was a fan favorite in first go-around with the Islanders and the move looked even better. Alas.
The other part of me, however, is excited about the idea of three electric rookies being with the team on opening night and injecting some juice into what’s become a bit of a staid line-up. I’ve been shamelessly in the bag for Ho-Sang since his draft night, and Barzal and Beauvillier have spent the last two weeks making everyone revisit the already infamous Griffin Reinhart trade that brought them both to the Islanders in the first place.
The Islanders have been hoarding high draft picks for so long, having three pay off at one time would be a dream come true and possibly a future ESPN 30-for-30 documentary (if this happens, I demand an executive producer credit).
There’s still time for the roster to shake out. But today’s moves raise even more questions about what kind of roster the Islanders want to have.