In the weeks since the free agency period opened, the New York Islanders have been rather quiet. Re-signing Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, and Anders Lee were highly important transactions for the team. Tom Kuhnhackl also re-signed for another year, and the Isles picked up goaltender Semyon Varlamov to replace Robin Lehner. Jared Coreau, a prospect goaltender, was also signed in the following days.
Since then, however, there have been no moves. With Valtteri Filppula’s departure for the Detroit Red Wings and RFAs Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle still unsigned, the Islanders still have holes to fill in the roster. Since Beauvillier and Dal Colle still have time to reach an agreement, the only gaping hole is the third-line center position. But the long-term injuries hampering Clutterbuck and Ladd add potential holes to the roster as well. While the Islanders can continue to browse the free agency market, there are plenty of willing and able players within the franchise.
GM Lou Lamoriello has already expressed interest in the franchise’s prospects. After the July 1st mayhem, he told the media, “We certainly will look to improve our center ice if possible… It could be somebody internally. We have a couple young players in the minors and also a couple of college prospects that we think very highly of.”
So, who are these highly-thought-of prospects and just how ready are they?
The obvious, though widely disliked, answer is Tanner Fritz. The 27-year-old center re-signed with the Islanders earlier in the off-season and has already played a handful of games in the NHL for the Islanders. He played 34 games in the 2017-18 season but only accumulated 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists). This previous season, he played 8 games, cracking the roster for opening day but then dropping off until he was needed in the playoff-push because Filppula was injured. In those 8 games, he had a single point from an assist, but showed a lot of potential during his final two games before his own injury took him back out of the roster. Fritz’s strong points include his wrist shot, soft hands, and aggressive search for the puck. He proved himself to be a good penalty killer as well. However, he’s already an older player, a slow skater, and has seemed behind the play in most of his NHL time.
Fans would much rather see Joshua Ho-Sang promoted into the lineup. The rookie center/winger is undeniably gifted and a great partner on the ice for Mathew Barzal. In his 53 total NHL games, he has 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists). Drafted in the first round in 2014, he has amazing speed and puck skills. He can dance around other players on the ice, create plays, and score. Ho-Sang is a true weapon on the power play. However, his tendency to talk to the media puts him at odds with management, and, at times, he doesn’t show the patience needed to grow. This rocky relationship could explain why he is still an unsigned RFA. Though Lamoriello said Ho-Sang received a qualifying offer like all the RFAs this offseason, the fans must wait to see if he even returns to the Island before hoping he fills the vacant center spot.
A less obvious rookie option who could crack the lineup this year is Travis St. Denis. Undrafted, St. Denis joined the Islanders’ AHL team after graduating from Quinnipiac University. At 26 years old, he plays both center and right-wing and is skilled at both staking and fighting. Last season, St. Denis played 75 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, scoring 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists). A two-way forward, he is not afraid to drop his gloves and is strong on his skates in front of the net. Besides his eye for tip-ins, he has a good wrist shot and understands angles on the ice. However, his scrappiness led to 105 minutes in penalties last season and a -10 rating. St. Denis’ promotion to the NHL would give Trotz the chance to work his magic with a rough, high-spirited player, similar to Ovechkin, all over again.
These are, of course, not the only options in Bridgeport who can fill the Islanders’ vacancy, but they are the best suited for the team currently. All three are older players, yet not beyond their prime, who can withstand the speed and physicality of the NHL and still improve their game. Though not the flashiest prospects who catch fans’ attention constantly, they are ready for the jump the major league.
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