Making Strides

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone and the Islanders made it obvious that they are focused on improving their defense for the years to come.  With free agency a mere six days away there are many variables that could come into play for New York Islanders' GM Garth Snow and head coach Jack Capuano when deciding which six defenseman will be in the line-up in Pittsburgh on October 13th.  

Today Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) has reported that the New York Islanders are interested in Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, and after making a deal with Anaheim for veteran defenseman, Lubomir Visnovsky, Islander fans can only hope that Snow has another move in him.  Also today the Islanders have extended qualifying offers to eight players; Sean Backman, Justin Dibenedetto, Mark Katic, Mikko Koskinen, Tomas Marcinko, Matt Martin, Rhett Rakhshani, and Ty Wishart.  

With July 1st rapidly approaching and the interest in Bobby Ryan it is safe to assume that if Snow is to make a move during free agency it will be for an NHL ready blue liner who can help anchor down his defense.  Currently the Islanders have four defense who more than likely will be in the starting line-up come October. 

1) Travis Hamonic: A fan favorite, physical, defensive stalwart Hamonic will be on the blueline and most likely playing on the top defensive pair in the 2012-13 season.  Hamonic was the only defenseman and one of only two Islanders to finish the season with a positive plus/minus rating (+6).  Travis managed this playing most of his minutes against the opponents top scoring forwards as one half of the Islanders' shut down pair.  Hamonic finished his season with only two goals but he added 22 assists to combine for 24 points in 73 games.  Come October Travis Hamonic will once again be on the team's shut down pair and fans are just going to have to wait and see who his partner will be.  

2) Andrew MacDonald: Although MacDonald's numbers dropped from 2010-11 to 2011-12 he still had an effective year on the Islanders' blue line.  A-Mac finished the season with a plus/minus rating of -5 (not great but not terrible) and he tallied 19 points on five goals and 14 assists.  MacDonald proved many times throughout the year that he could either be an offensive outlet from the blueline, but that he also could be trusted on the ice against the opponents top forwards.  A responsible, smart, two-way defenseman MacDonald will be back on the Island and in the top four.

3) Mark Streit: (Those of you who know me, know that I can not stand Streit) Mark Streit should be a forward on the New York Islanders, and if Garth Snow is able to muster up three NHL ready defense for the 2012-13 season that is right where the Swiss play maker should be.  He would make a better second or third line winger than he does a top four defenseman.  Streit was touted as the Islanders number one defenseman, and with seven goals and 40 assists he lives up t those expectations, at first glance.  When you look a little deeper you see that the "number one" defenseman finished the season with a rating of -27 (unreal).  As a defenseman points mean nothing if you can not keep the puck away from your own goalie.  Maybe training camp and the presence of veteran Visnovsky will help Streit become a more responsible player in his own zone, but something has to be done about his defensive play. 

4) Lubomir Visnovsky: It appears the Visnovsky will be on the Island next season and even at the ripe old age of 36 that is something for Islander fans to rejoice.  The Islanders' roster is actually going to boast an NHL veteran defenseman who can help nurture the young prospects into mature, heady hockey players.  Visnovsky has always been a dominate offensive defenseman last season in 68 games he recorded 27 points and a plus/minus rating of +7.  It was the season before that Islander fans should take a gander at however, 81 games played, 15 goals, 50 assists, 65 points, and he managed to be +18 (take notes Mr. Streit).  Visnovsky may be the veteran presence that Snow has been looking for and he could easily be a top pair defenseman. 

If nothing can be done about Mark Streit, I foresee the Islanders' top two defensive pairs looking like this:

That leaves two open roster spots for Snow and Capuano to fill.  Assuming that Garth will attempt to sign an NHL ready free agent let's take a look at the top prospects likely to fill one or both of the vacant spots on the Islanders' blueline.

1) Dylan Reese: In 28 games with the Islanders last season Reese tallied seven points and kept an even rating proving his defensive responsibility does not falter due to his offensive awareness. And in 27 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers he recorded 15 points and an even rating.  For a small, 6'1" 201lbs, defenseman Reese makes great use of the size he does have and his stick to thwart offensive chances from opponents in the defensive zone.  Reese was one of the prospects that I was most impressed with during the course of the 2011-12 season.

2) Matt Donovan: Another small, young defenseman Donovan only played three games with the Islanders this season, he did not manage any points but also did not look to be out of place.  In 72 games with the Sound Tigers this past season Donovan recorded 45 points and a +11 rating.  Donovan played well at the NHL level in his three games and seems to be about NHL ready. 

3) Aaron Ness: Ness played nine games with the Islanders this season and, like Donovan, managed zeroes across the board.  His season with the Sound Tigers was different though recording 27 points and a +8 rating in 69 games. Ness is the smallest of the prospects, 5'10" 170lbs, but he makes up for it in speed and "hockey smarts."

4) Calvin de Haan: Ever since being drafted 12th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft Islander fans have had their sights set on de Haan being the next big thing on their blueline.  Some injury troubles have plagued de Haan to this point but it seems he is about ready to break into the NHL.  In 56 games with the Sound Tigers last season Calvin tallied 16 points but was a -1 rating.  

It will be interesting to see how the New York Islanders will round out their top blueline going into the 2012-13 season.  Stay tuned to TCLIsles Edition for all the latest Islanders' news.

-Shane Blackburn

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