This year features one of the most critical training camps for the Islanders. A team rich with prospects who are coming off a division title before losing in the playoffs, the drive to make it to the big brother team of the Sound Tigers will be higher than ever.
For the Isles, there is a conflict though. Room must be made for these young players to move up, and it will become apparent who isn't fit to play at the NHL level very quickly this training camp. Spots will be open, and those who are willing to show they are ready to play in the big league and make a difference on this team will be welcomed.
First, we must look at who's the most likely to be sent to Bridgeport for one of the prospects:
Milan Jurcina was probably more of a liability this season than anything else. Numbers don't always tell the story, but his +/- rating was abysmal, only equaled by his marvelous break downs at the most inopportune times. He wasn't physical when he had to be and didn't zone cover enough, which ended up leading to goals.
Yes, he has a thundering shot, but it hardly ever hits the net. Yes, he's a big body and was seemingly an answer to some questions about the physicality of this team, but it wasn't to be so. Just about anyone in the prospects roster will be able to replace Jurcina, which is unfortunate. If the Isles were looking specifically for a back string sizable defenseman, then perhaps it's finally time to give Ty Wishart an opportunity.
Steve Staios is probably the next candidate to either step down to Bridgeport or retire. He had a total of eight massive assists last year on the first line of defense. As much as veteran leadership is apparently a priority of this team, his lack of transitional speed is another liability. He hasn't played a full season since 2007, was injured this season and once again just about anybody who can produce more points and play better defensively will be better for the team.
Moving right along, we come to Jay Pandolfo. What can be said? One goal and two assists accounting for a total of three points over 62 games. Once again, just about anybody can fill the void for his spot on the team to help produce more on offense. At times, the Isles struggled to score and a reason might be the fact that some of the players on the team only managed a few measly points all season long.
For a man selected 14th overall in the draft, you might expect more than a single goal and five assists all season long. It wasn't to be so. Marty Reasoner may be a man to be reckoned with in the faceoff circle, but one goal isn't enough for most coaches to trade off bringing up a prospect who may in turn score a lot more for a few lost faceoffs.
Goaltending has become the hot seat for all but one man: Evgeni Nabokov. He is the sole owner of the starting position next season, and all the others will be fighting for the job. Last year proved the three-goal system is completely ineffective in getting consistency out of netminders. We haven't heard a peep out of anyone regarding an extension for Montoya.
It is suspected that Kevin Poulin will backup Nabokov this coming season to get him the experience needed to be a starting goaltender. That means all others, including DiPietro and Montoya if he is re-signed, will be sent to Bridgeport.
There we have it, five spots: two offense, two defense and a goaltender. Each can be filled by those who earn the spots on the team come training camp. Anything to replace some of these players may be a step toward success next season. Earning a -34, eight assists, three points and a single goal respectively is not exactly contributing to the team every night.
Those who work for it will earn their spot.