Around the NHL, teams are already getting blown out, players are injured and getting suspended. And the Islanders still have two days till their first game.
The waiving of Ross Johnston, while it shed a $1.1 million cap hit for a seldom-used (albeit beloved, etc.) forward, was more about the flexibility and options the Islanders seek to carry among their wingers.
Under Lane Lambert, Johnston’s slot as 14th forward was strictly “break glass in case of emergency/ruffian opponent.” Specialized and narrowly tactical, if you like. There were times when a winger went on IR, and the Isles called up a different replacement rather than slot Johnston in.
Entering 2023-24, the Isles waived him, likely with the hope of stashing him in Bridgeport rather than losing him outright to Anaheim, to make room for more options at wing.
First and foremost among them is Simon Holmstrom, who received lots of reps during camp alongside the top scoring line with Bo(wie) Horvat and Mat(hew) Barzal. After coming to the AHL at a very young age and after several seasons of slow but steady development, this is Holmstrom’s best chance to grab a regular spot in the NHL and define his role. Upon arriving in North America, he seemed to focus first, Trotz-like, on the habits for a proverbial 200-foot game. The offensive skills have been seen in brief moments here and there.
He’s not necessarily a strong bet to stick on the Horvat and Barzal line, but at least the potential is there in theory: A guy who is defensively conscientious yet not out of place with offensive players, and who won’t be expected to be the go-to guy for offense anyway.
Waiver-exempt and assigned on paper to AHL Bridgeport when rosters were due, Holmstrom continued practicing with the NHL group and was officially recalled as practices resumed Thursday. And he was again on the top line.
#Isles at practice— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) October 12, 2023
(Gauthier, Wahlstrom extra)
The practice lines reported by Newsday’s Andrew Gross demonstrate what has changed, and where the Isles are on the wing:
The Horvat-Barzal combo is a lock, it’s just a question of who’s on the other wing
- The Pierre Engvall-Brock Nelson-Kyle Palmieri trio, effective last year after Engvall’s acquisition and Palmieri’s health, is also something they want to keep together.
- The “Identity Line,” of course, is back together as ever, but you know those boys are going to have injuries.
- The Lee-Pageau-Fasching is a new trio this year, one they hope also sticks.
Meanwhile, in the extra #13 and #14 slots, Oliver Wahlstrom is still getting up to speed after a major knee injury ended last season. Julien Gauthier, an offseason signing, is appreciated and has potential to fill a few different roles.
Part of the fun, once the games finally start, is to see how these winger slots shake out.
- Staple: Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin are best buds and possibly the best goalies in the NHL. Sorokin on Igor: “He is warrior out there. I don’t watch too much technical things with him because we have different styles. But I very much enjoy watching him play.” [Athletic]
- Jon Ledecky, per usual, is jazzed about his team’s outlook. [Newsday]
- An elaborate and hopeful argument for the Islanders to try to pry Shane Pinto from the Senators. [THN]
- This better be the Islanders’ contending window because the salary cap toll is coming. [Po$t +]
Final point of the Pinto situation. The Sens spent millions to buyout White, and Del Zotto, and to move Murray. They used multiple picks to move Zaitsev. They got 5 million plus in the Debrincat/Kubalik move. How can they still be over the cap?— Shawn Simpson (@TSNSimmer) October 11, 2023
- The return of a different Brocktober? Brock Boeser, with a new lease on his career, scores four goals as the Canucks torch the Oilers in Vancouver.
- “There are a lot of things wrong with what we just saw out there.” That was ugly for the Oilers. [Sportsnet]
- Jonathan Quick has won Cups and is Matt Moulson’s brother-in-law, you see, so he can’t be bothered by being lit up this preseason. I am definitely looking forward to this. [Post]
- Ryan Reaves fought and stuff, and the Leafs came back to win their opener with the Habs. [Sportsnet]
- The family of Chris Snow, who succumbed to ALS just before the season, dropped the ceremonial first puck in an emotional opening win for Calgary. [NHL]
- Taylor Hall is already injured for the Blackhawks, who lost to Boston. [NHL]
- Brett Howden is already suspended for two games for a head hit. [TSN]