The Future Is Bright For The Islanders On Defense
The old saying goes as follows: "defense wins championships." The New York Islanders have learned in recent years that they have not had enough defense. No Islanders team has averaged less than three goals against per game since the 2007-2008 season, and if that team had allowed three more goals, it would have been exactly three goals against per game.
This painful lesson in defense is about to be rectified.
The Isles have gone out of their way to improve the defense. In the last two drafts, the Islanders have drafted eleven defensemen, including spending all seven picks on blueliners in the 2012 draft. What follows is a brief summary of what is in store for the Isles in the coming seasons.
First up is Calvin De Haan. This smooth skating Carp, Ontario native was selected with the 12th pick in 2009 by the Islanders. De Haan is a puck moving defenseman with some offensive upside. He makes a good outlet pass and is solid in his own zone. He would have been in Islanders camp this season and possibly have made the team, except he injured his shoulder. It required surgery and is his second serious shoulder injury in three seasons, albeit on a different shoulder. The hope is he can shake the injury bug and be what he was expected to be when the Isles traded up to draft him. Expect him to vie for a roster spot next season.
Next is AHL All Star Matt Donovan. Donovan was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 and hails from Oklahoma. He is the first Oklahoman to ever play in the NHL when got a cup of coffee with the big squad last season. Another offensive defenseman, Donovan brings a hard shot to the table. He registered a 98 mph slap shot at the AHL All Star skills competition this year. Donovan had 45 points in his first season as a Sound Tiger and is currently a bit over a point per game this season. He will be in Isles training camp next season, but the defenseman might get caught up in a numbers game. (Photo credit: Flikr/dougtone)
Aaron Ness was drafted in the same round of the same draft as current Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, the 2008 draft, only 13 spots higher. An offensive defenseman who played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota, Ness combines a high hockey I.Q. with some serious speed. Not the biggest defender at five foot 11 inches, he uses his brains and feet to stay positionally sound in his own zone. He has played nine games with the Islanders and is currently skating in Bridgeport, where he is in his second season. Ness has 18 points in 45 games. Some fans feel he is the odd man out, but don't be too quick to count him out, as the Isles brass hasn't given up on him and he will be given a shot to make the big club.
Scott Mayfield, drafted in the second round in 2011, currently plays for the University of Denver. The big defenseman is more of a stay at home blueliner, although he does have some skill. He is an intriguing prospect, partly because the Islanders seem to have more offensive defenseman in their stable than defensive standouts. He scored 12 points in 42 games at Denver his freshman season and already has 12 this season in only 27 games. However, Mayfield is probably still at least a year away and more likely two, but he may be just what the Islanders need to round out their defense. (Photo credit: islanders.nhl.com)
There are some other interesting defensive prospects in the Islanders system, such as Griffin Reinhart and Ville Pokka, and it is very possible that one or more of them can surprise and be a regular at the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign. That chance increases as Radek Martinek, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Mark Streit all have contracts that expire at the end of this season.
However there will still be some holdovers from this year. Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic, Matt Carkner and Brian Strait will either be restricted free agents or under contract next season. It also remains to be seen as to what happens with waiver claims Joe Finley and Thomas Hickey. Hickey has been steady, but Finley has size and may warrant another look.
The Islanders will need at least one and probably two power play quarterbacks next season, and that opens the door for De Haan, Donovan, and Ness. Expect at least one to make the squad next season. Expect at least one other defenseman to be traded for or signed as a free agent.
That puts the count at a minimum of six and possibly as high as eight defensemen for next season, with some other guys pushing to climb up the ranks. All that competition for spots puts the Isles in a tough spot, but a good spot none the less. They can see who is the best of the bunch and keep them. Then turn around and put some of these blueliners in a package to fill some other areas of need.
All of this spells improved defense for the Islanders in the coming seasons, and defense wins.
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