The New York Islanders’ injured reserve list could almost be its own practice unit, so the Sound Tigers better be ready.
Jordan Eberle. Leo Komarov. Tom Kuhnhackl. Nick Leddy. Matt Martin. Andrew Ladd.
Honestly, typing that list, it feels short. It seems like it should so much longer like the Islanders are missing so many people. But that just goes to show how vital some of those players are. Eberle’s injury places an empty spot next to Mat Barzal. Komarov’s illness knocks the third line off-kilter. Leddy’s injury opens up the defense. Martin’s injury cuts a hole in the identity line.
And yet, the team isn’t exactly struggling without them. They had ten consecutive wins after all. “Next man up,” one of Coach Trotz’s favorite phrases, is working out just fine.
Noah Dobson wasn’t a call-up, but the solid defenseman is definitely taking advantage of his opening. He hasn’t made quite the same statement that Devon Toews did during his call-up last year, but Dobson is certainly making his case to stay. About the only time you hear his name during games is when he’s taking a shot or fighting for the puck along the boards. In his five games, he hasn’t taken a penalty yet; he just plays safe, smooth, defensive hockey.
Oliver Wahlstrom is making the same quiet statement. He’s not getting a lot of mention, but he is seeing a decent chunk of ice time – on average, almost eleven minutes. His time is steadily increasing as he gives Trotz more and more reasons to trust his abilities. He’s a strong skater, gaining the confidence to shoot. Perhaps he hasn’t made a strong claim to take a regular’s spot yet, but he’s definitely contributing to the win streak. By the time Eberle, Komarov, or Kuhnhackl is healthy, Wahlstrom will have given Trotz something to think about.
Ross Johnston is also not a call-up as he was a member of the Islanders’ roster last season, too, but with this haze of injuries, he’s finally seeing consecutive games. Though it’s easy to mistake him for just a goon, Johnston is more than that. He’s the rookies’ protection. When a Flyer wanted to retaliate against Cole Bardreau’s cross-check, Johnston stepped in. He’s there to keep the new guys safe, to spark life when the Isles start sleep-skating, but also to gain his own experience. Looking past all his fights, Johnston already has a goal this season. If his rough becomes a little more tumble, he could be a replica of Martin and exactly what the Islanders need.
Finally, Cole Bardreau is making the biggest splash. He’s had the loudest impact on the offense, inserting himself in plays, getting rough in the corners, and taking shots. Perhaps his name is only mentioned so often because of his long, injured path to the pros, but he is absolutely proving himself game by game like the others. When your first NHL goal comes on a penalty shot, it’s hard to forget your name.
The win streak shouldn’t be over. That was a rough, ugly third period against Pittsburgh. But the Islanders have the chemistry, the passion, and the hungry rookies to get it right back.
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