Islanders rookie camp opened today and Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson, running the camp with Jack Capuano with Team USA at the World Cup, liked the kids' pace and the fire in their eyes! [blasts Eye of the Tiger]
Per the Islanders:
"Guys are in great shape, the pace was outstanding," [Thompson] added. "The little details throughout the drills that we're looking for [were there] and they seem to be dialed in. Now it's can they stay mentally focused during the course of this training camp and it's going to be a grind."
Still the focus was on Mathew Barzal, who was once again asked about his chances to make the big club this year. He's humble, he wants it and he is hellbent on getting the attention of the coaching staff.
"There's a little bit more pressure," Barzal said. "Obviously it'd be unbelievable to play there this year. They are obviously going to do what's in my best interest. At the end of the day I'm here to work hard and try to make a good impression."
Barzal spent Friday on a line with Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang, two guys who are no doubt also looking to make a good impression and avoid (with all due respect) riding the buses in the AHL.
Here's Barzal taking the puck for a spin during a drill.
So the first step for Barzal - or any of these guys - is to take the blue ribbon at camp and head into next week's full training camp on a winning streak. The next step is to convince the coaching staff that they're a better option than an incumbent veteran.
That's where a lot of us might be skeptical of their chances. What would a rookie need to do to get Capuano or Doug Weight to slot him into a roster spot over a player they have a two-four-six year relationship with? I have no idea. They might have no idea. It'll depend on what happens over the next two weeks, where a lot can change.
One thing that could affect those chances are injuries, and a tweet from Arthur Staple seems to indicate that a sad health situation from last season could carry over to this one.
Just saw Mikhail Grabovski at IceWorks. He's working out in the gym, not on the ice. Does not seem likely he'll be cleared for camp.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) September 16, 2016
Mikhail Grabovski had been out of the Islanders line-up since February following his third concussion in two seasons. Still a mostly positive player when healthy, Grabovski has missed a ton of time for a guy with a $5 million cap hit. An injured player cannot be bought out, so don't even bother bringing it up.
The worst part is that missing camp would rob Grabovski of a great opportunity to ease back into NHL games.
Speaking of missing camp, restricted free agent Ryan Strome has less than a week to agree to a new contract or run the risk of crossing the Sign-or-Sit-For-The-Season barrier imposed by ownership. It's worth repeating that Garth Snow has gone down to the wire with RFAs before, so at this point, this is simply an annual ritual that signals the official start of Islanders training camp. Still... c'mon guys.
If the Islanders expect to improve upon what was the league's 11th-best offense last season, Strome, Grabovski and Barzal - and, hell, even Dal Colle and Ho-Sang - should all be in play, but each is currently being held up by a different speed bump - be it a contract, health or seniority.
And that's only after Day 1 of rookie camp! Hang tough, stay hungry.