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Question 14: Who can make an impact from Bridgeport?

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It’s more than just Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta

Minnesota Wild v New York Islanders
Christopher Gibson
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The hiring of Lou Lamoriello instantly changed the culture of the New York Islanders. His hiring, not only has been felt at the NHL level, but with the AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Lamoriello’s additions include former AHL MVP and active scoring leader Chris Bourque, Matt Lorito, former Lamoriello signee Mike Sislo, and AHL veteran goalie Jeremy Smith. All of the above have one thing in common, they have won at the AHL level.

The quartet will join returning players such as last year’s leading scorer Travis St. Denis, all-stars Christopher Gibson, Mitchell Vande Sompel and of course, Michael Dal Colle.

The Sound Tigers should should compete for their first playoff series win since 2003. But which players, if called upon, can make an impact for the Islanders?

Forwards

Another new addition to the Sound Tigers will likely be Kieffer Bellows, if he fails to make the Islanders out of camp. Bellows is beginning his professional career after an interesting amateur one. The 2016 first-round pick put up 41 goals and 33 assists in 56 Games for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks after spending his freshman year at Boston University. Unless there is a glut of injured forwards, Bellows will spend the entire season in Bridgeport.

The slate is clean for Joshua Ho-Sang, new number and clean shaven. This could be the 2014 first-round pick’s last chance with the team. The fact that this is even a topic of discussion is beyond me. Ho-Sang’s talent is far superior to anyone slated for Barry Trotz’s third line. The overcrowded bottom six will push Ho-Sang to Bridgeport. If he “gets it,” Ho-Sang will spend little time with the Sound Tigers.

Michael Dal Colle unexpectedly made his NHL debut last season, where he played four uneventful games. It’s unlikely that Dal Colle plays another NHL game with the Islanders.

An intriguing option could be Otto Koivula. The 20-year-old Finn begins his North American professional career after spending the last two seasons in the Finnish Elite League. Koivula’s game is somewhat rare for a power forward.

“Great touch, good hands, good vision, real good offensive instincts,” Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson told The Athletic. “We saw that really from prospect camp (two months ago). And he’s only going to get better. That’s his first real experience in the North American game and I thought he was good.”

He should be ticketed to spend the entire season in Bridgeport. But definitely keep an eye on him.

Travis St. Denis could be this year’s Tanner Fritz. Both were undrafted collegiate players. Both undersized, and both worked their butts off to earn a contract. St. Denis could get a cup of coffee if need be.

Defensemen

Johnny Boychuk, on average plays 66.5 games per season during his four-year tenure with the Islanders. Reinforcements from Bridgeport are a certainty.

The Islanders defensive depth chart likely grew by one with the announcement that defenseman Luca Sbisa will be attending training camp on a PTO. If Sbisa has a good camp, he will make the team.

The odd man out to start the season will likely be Sebastian Aho, who performed well in 22 games for the Islanders last season. Aho showed a lot of poise at his age and will find a way back into the Islanders lineup at some point this season.

A couple of youngsters, Mitchell Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon, make strides last season and could answer the call if needed.

Vande Sompel’s first professional season got better as the year went on. He was rewarded with a trip to the AHL All-Star Game, where he would net three goals in the three-game tournament. He would finish his rookie season with seven goals, 22 assists in 58 games. A shoulder injury cost him most of February. Even with missing time, Vande Sompel finished in the top five rookie scoring for AHL defensemen.

Like Vande Sompel, Wotherspoon seized the opportunity. When Devon Toews suffered a season-sending injury and Aho was called up to the Islanders. Wotherspoon slid right in. He played point on the power play unit as well as the penalty kill. The lefty defenseman has an underrated shot and it can find its way to the net. He finished the season strongly with four of his seven goals coming in the final eight games.

One under-the-radar player with could see a few games is Seth Helgeson, who Lamoriello drafted back in 2009 when he was running the Devils. Helgeson is a big, nasty defenseman who has 50 games of NHL experience.

Goaltending

After playing just seven games in 2016-17 due to injury, Christopher Gibson bounced back and became an AHL all-star. He played eight games with the Islanders last season. It’s hard to judge his performance with a horrid defense in front of him. He allowed three or more goals in five of his eight starts. I’m not sure an established NHL goalie would have fared any better.

If Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss go down with an injury, Gibson, with a more structured defensive system, will be more than capable to fill in for a time.

Jeremy Smith is an AHL journeyman to say the least. Bridgeport will be the 29-year-old’s eighth team in nine seasons. The signing was insurance in case Linus Soderstrom was not ready for the season. The move appeared to be the right one. Smith has ten games of NHL experience behind him, going 1-6-1, with a .888 save pct., and a 3.54 GAA with the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17.

Bridgeport is more ready than previous years to provide the Isles reinforcements if need be.