The New York Islanders are crowded at forward, so training camp should dictate who makes the team and who doesn’t.
With the signing of Stephen Gionta on Tuesday, the Islanders now have too many forwards for too few roster spots. Which should leave the front office wondering how exactly to maximize the talent of all of its skaters.
Granted, the Isles have been through this before. In previous years, general manager Garth Snow has assembled rosters that have featured plenty of training camp battles—but not to this extent.
In 2017-18, head coach Doug Weight and his staff will be looking at six forwards for two spots; not exactly a favorable proportion for anybody involved. Sure, depth is usually a good thing. But as we saw last season with Jean-François Bérubé and the Islanders’ failed three-goalie situation, depth isn’t always a good thing.
It will only be a good thing if Snow and Weight figure out how to maximize the talent of all of their skaters.
So how do they do this? Well, for starters, here are the Isles’ presumptive lines:
The question marks represent, well…the question marks. Who will center the “Kid Line?” Who will appear on Cizikas’ wing? These are the questions that Weight will have to answer in the weeks to come. Here are the candidates to fill those spots:
Shane Prince, C
2016-17 Stats (NYI): 50 GP, 5 G, 13 A (18 PTS), 18 PIM, -9 +/- rating
At the 2016 trade deadline, Snow was quiet except for one move, shipping a third-round draft pick to Ottawa for the relatively unknown Prince. And while he never amounted to anything in Ottawa, Prince’s departure drew the ire of Senators fans, who complained that the move was unnecessary and frustrating. Their thinking was simple: Prince is a young, versatile forward with good hockey sense. There was no reason not to give him a shot.
Well, the Islanders gave him a shot, and for the most part, the negatives have outweighed the positives. Prince isn’t strong enough to play every night, and his upside, well… it’s just not high enough to keep on giving him second chances. We’ll see what Weight decides, but it’s not looking too good for Prince.
Stephen Gionta, C
2016-17 Stats (NYI): 26 GP, 1 G, 5 A (6 PTS), 2 PIM, +9 +/- rating
So here’s the thing: Gionta is a serviceable player. The Isles brought him in to be one, and he was. He brought energy, versatility, and one helluva work ethic. He did everything Snow wanted him to do. That’s why he was brought back for another go-round, this time at the start of the season.
But that’s the thing: Gionta is, at best, serviceable. He doesn’t have enough size or strength or offensive prowess to play every night. So while he’s a good player and an even better person, it’s highly doubtful that he will stick at this level.
Alan Quine, C
2016-17 Stats (NYI): 61 GP, 5 G, 13 A (18 PTS), 8 PIM, -2 +/- rating
Like Gionta, Quine is a serviceable bottom-six forward. Unlike Gionta, he has more upside, thanks to his strong skating skills. So Quine is a little tricky: He impressed the coaching staff enough to play in excess of 60 games last season, but still isn’t at the point where he’s cemented in a full-time role. Only time will tell.
Jason Chimera, LW
2016-17 Stats (NYI): 82 GP, 20 G, 13 A (33 PTS), 40 PIM, +1 +/- rating
When the Isles splurged on Chimera last summer, they were presumably seeking a dependable veteran to complete the team’s fourth line. And while he never actually played on the fourth line, Chimera impressed as a forechecker, aggressor, leader and occasional goalscorer.
Which makes his inclusion on this list all the more intriguing. There’s a case to be made for him starting the season on the bench, and it goes like this: at this point in the “rebuild,” the Isles should be valuing youth over experience. It’s a tough call.
Michael Dal Colle, LW
2016-17 Stats (BST): 71 GP, 15 G, 26 A (41 PTS), 37 PIM, +3 +/- rating
Once the Islanders’ top forward prospect, Dal Colle has become an afterthought to some. While he was at one time the premier scoring talent in the OHL, his skating woes and lack of physicality have been holding him back.
The 21-year-old had an inconsistent rookie season in the AHL, where he showcased his offensive creativity and instincts, but also struggled in the consistency department.
Mathew Barzal, RW/C
2016-17 Stats (WHL/NYI): 43 GP, 10 G, 69 A (79 PTS), 26 PIM, +30 +/- rating
Barzal actually made the team in training camp last season, only to be sent down to the WHL after multiple miscues against the New York Rangers on Opening night. He’s a top offensive talent, thanks in part to his skating abilities and puck-handling.
But here’s the kicker: the 20-year-old is still smaller than anyone would like. It’s why his stock plummeted on draft night; it’s also likely why he was returned to the WHL last season.
So who will make the team? Who won’t? It’s an important question, no doubt, but it’s one that will have to be answered in training camp rather than online. Still, we like to speculate. And if history is any indicator, Barzal and Chimera seem likely to make the team, with Gionta and Dal Colle starting the season with Bridgeport.