Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
After years of veterans seemingly playing without fear of repercussions -- even over younger players who might have been out-performing their elder counterparts -- the Islanders find themselves entering the 2017-18 season under new leadership and counting on an infusion of young talent more than ever.
Doug Weight, speaking to the media on Wednesday after practice, said Mathew Barzal has done enough to make the team coming out of training camp. Weight is also happy with Ryan Pulock's preseason, even though he did add the caveat, "there's a pretty darn good battle going on back there for starting jobs" (via Brian Compton, NHL.com on Twitter).
The most telling thing Weight said in the session, however, was when he told Compton that he would be willing to sit veterans if the kids are outplaying them.
I know, I know….We heard a similar mantra out of former head coach Jack Capuano that never seemed to come to fruition. Will the comments by Weight turn out to be more than just an empty threat? Will he hold true to his word and follow through on the proclamation?
That will all depend on the play of a group of promising rookies, who are going to have to develop quick and show they can play and compete at the NHL level or else the Islanders are going to have a rough time keeping up with their Metropolitan division brethren and returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
With the 23-man roster due to the league by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, not holding many surprises, New York will enter the season with Barzal (20 years of age), Anthony Beauvillier (20), Joshua Ho-Sang (21), Ryan Pulock (23) and Adam Pelech (23) on the initial team sheet. Michael Dal Colle (21) and Devon Toews (23) are already back in Bridgeport, each beginning their second year of professional development with the eldest of the youth movement, Scott Mayfield (24), on the fringe.
With only 158 games of NHL experience for the five combined, Weight seems to be indicating he won't be holding their hands, rather throwing them into the mix and seeing how they handle the pressure. With much attention being paid to the dynamic Ho-Sang, who electrified crowds and injected some much needed energy into the lineup during his 21 games played in 2016-17, Barzal has had a fantastic training camp and seems poised to stick around for more than a two-game visit.
While captain John Tavares anchors the top line and Casey Cizikas a fixture on the grinding fourth unit, Barzal could slot into a second line role ahead of the inconsistent Brock Nelson. An end to end rush in the Islanders 3-0 preseason victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday, his third goal of the exhibition season, might have sealed the deal, even though it was against New Jersey's 'B' (or even 'C') team.
Ho-Sang was always expected to make the team, so there is no surprise at all there. If he can manage the puck effectively in the neutral zone, there is no reason to believe he'll do anything but keep fans, and more importantly, opponents, on the edge of their seats all season.
Beauvillier, coming off a terrific debut campaign, where he chipped in nine goals and 24 points over 66 games while playing responsible defensive hockey, is seen by the organization as potentially the replacement for departed Frans Nielsen, who left prior to the start of last season to sign with the Detroit Red Wings.
On defense, however, is where things get really interesting. Widely known as being the hardest position to learn and master, especially at the top level, Pulock struggled through his Bridgeport campaign, according to some sources, with play in his own end. The offensive talent is evident and has shown itself at every level the Dauphin, Canada native has made stops at.
He has good offensive instincts and an absolute rocket of a shot from the point, a tremendous asset that could prove lethal on the power play. But his play in his own end will determine how long he remains in the top six conversation and he has shown some more inconsistency in that area in the pre-season.
Adam Pelech was surprisingly protected from the Vegas Golden Knights in this summer's expansion draft, in large part because he had only 53 games in the league and missed a large chunk of 2016-17, battling thoracic outlet syndrome. But the Islanders saw enough of him prior to and after the injury to convince them he was worthy, showing smooth skating, positioning and possessing a high hockey IQ.
With Mayfield, big and physical, knocking on the door and Toews coming off an outstanding training camp plus veteran Dennis Seidenberg in the mix, the time is now for Pulock and Pelech to prove they can play against the opponent's best, night in and night out, and not be one-dimensional.
Should the rookies progress according to their pedigree and be given ample chance by the coaching staff, there is no reason to believe this is anything but a playoff team. But the line between success and failure, given the circumstances, seems to be razor thin. And the captain's signature on a contract extension might be riding on the results.
No pressure, though.