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Question 17: Can Devon Toews crack the Islanders top 6?

Yes. But will he? And when?

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders
Hoping to earn some NHL time and better pictures.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In what will surely lead to dozens of debates complicated by EA Sports-fed confusion, Devon Toews enters the 2018-19 season with a one-way contract from the Islanders.

But he is also still waivers-exempt.

Often people confuse or conflate the two, because often the two run roughly parallel during a player’s early career. But because of his age coming out of the NCAA, Toews’ first contract (ELC) was short. In part because of an injury last season, his pro experience was still lean when he re-signed this summer at age 24.

The point is, Toews will make the same salary whether he’s in the AHL or the NHL this season, but that doesn’t mean the Islanders will be reluctant to sign him to Bridgeport. In fact, his status as still waiver-exempt — and his recovery from surgery last winter — makes it a good possibility.

As with 2017-18 Sound Tiger teammate Sebastian Aho, who appeared in 22 NHL games last year (but is not on a one-way deal), Toews brings the kind of offensive talent and sound decision-making that should make the incumbent Islanders blueliners nervous.

Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are the veteran locks, though Boychuk is coming off knee surgery.

Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey should be virtual locks (especially Pulock), and may be paired together again, though they’ll have to earn the trust of Barry Trotz and staff.

Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are of the kind of hard-nails, steady approach Trotz seems to fancy, but they also offer the lowest upside of these six. Their long-term deals awarded by the previous regime may not be the guarantees they looked like last winter.

If one falters, or if the new coaching staff sees a different mix of pairings they like, or if there is a preseason blueline injury — something more than the ol’ “Radek Martinek has been placed on IR” — then the opportunity for Toews will be there.

Certainly carrying Toews as an initial seventh defenseman costs them less than Aho, who carries a higher cap hit in the NHL and a far lower AHL salary compared to Toews.

But there is other competition. We are still early in training camp, so the bodies mentioned above aren’t the only ones to worry about: In the PTO arena, Dennis Seidenberg lurks yet again. And Luca Sbisa accepted an Isles PTO saying that Lou Lamoriello told him he could not only help near-term, but also well into the future. Swiss import Yannick Rathgeb could also surprise.

And then one more wild card is first-round pick Noah Dobson, a highly touted prospect who is almost certain to be sent back to juniors. However, if Dobson blows their socks off and kept around to at least start the season...he can’t be assigned to the AHL. That means some other body would have to go to Bridgeport. Meanwhile, Toews is coming off surgery rehab for an injury that ruined the second half of 2017-18.

I’m personally high on Toews. Not Snow-ian “the season changed when Toews was hurt” high (after all, the callup in his stead, Aho, did pretty well). But at age 24 (25 this February) his time is now, or at least very soon. He can move the puck, he can read the play, and he should eventually be an upgrade to the top six.

He just needs a path to get there.