From the last four drafts the Islanders have only had one player from those drafts suit up in a regular season NHL game and he was traded a few weeks ago. It certainly seems like it's about time for some of the younger players to step up and make an impact. But to do that, there has to be some available roster space. Chances are that by the end of the season we'll see at least a few of them play with the big club, but realistically, how many can we expect to be on the roster opening night?
For the purposes of this exercise, we'll assume that a prospect won't bump an NHL vet completely off the roster, as the Islanders have been reluctant to waive NHL veterans over the past couple years (case in point; Marty Reasoner). We'll also assume that the team will carry two goalies as opposed to three.
There are 13 forwards who we'll call "NHL veterans" under contract right now. Only one of these players can be optioned to Bridgeport without having to pass waivers (Casey Cizikas). Here's how the lineup looks (just spitballing lines here, nothing scientific):
[sny-box]Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PM Bouchard
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck
Colin McDonald - Casey Cizikas - Matt Martin
So, by the looks of it, you can safely say goodbye to the un-signed Marty Reasoner and Brad Boyes. No room at the inn. You can also see why David Ullstrom and Jesse Joensuu don't fit. Between these 13 and all the prospects coming, there's just no room.
And on defense, here's how it shakes out. None of these players have a waiver exemption.
[sny-box]Hamonic - MacDonald
Visnovsky - Hickey
Strait - Carkner
And that's not including the un-signed but break-glass-in-case-of-emergency Radek Martinek.
The above totals 20 players signed to an NHL contract, only one of which can safely head to Bridgeport without waivers. And based on how he played last year, Casey Cizikas is not getting sent down. So that leaves three spots. Two will be taken up by goalies.
That leaves one spot for a prospect on the 23-man NHL opening night roster. Maybe the Islanders will waive Joe Finley -- I'd say that could be a pretty likely scenario -- but given how reluctant they've been to do waive anyone in recent years and how injury prone this team has been (last year aside), we're probably looking at one player on the opening night roster that isn't currently listed above.
Could that be Matt Donovan? Or how about Ryan Strome? Brock Nelson played in a playoff game, so maybe he is the favorite?
At Garth Snow's Booster Club Q&A it sounded like Donovan was already penciled into the defensive lineup. Strome is going to make a hell of a push, as he is the top prospect in the system and looked like it last week at prospect camp and scrimmage. And maybe the team takes both, by sending Finley through waivers (that's what I would prefer to see). But in all likelihood, we're looking at one rookie on the roster opening night and a whole bunch waiting in the wings for an injury or other unforeseen circumstance. With the injury history of some of these players, that may just be the plan. The prospects are coming, but it likely won't be for opening night.