Islanders Get Legs Moving; Take To Ice For Training Camp

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The New York Islanders took to the ice yesterday morning at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum as the 2014-15 season officially began at 9:12 a.m. ET.

As to be expected, there was not much to be learned from Day One, neither from the groupings nor from the intense, up-tempo practices that head coach Jack Capuano and his assistant, Greg Cronin ran.

With three smaller groups—instead of the two large ones that began camp last season at Barclays Center—Capuano will be able to give more detailed attention to the players. Training camp promises to be a hotly contested two weeks in which players will ultimately be assigned their roles before the Oct. 11 season opener in Raleigh, NC.

Some observations and notable quotables (yep, I also rhyme with the best of ‘em) from an action-packed first day…

Group One : Jaroslav Halak took to the ice almost a full hour earlier than the rest of his new teammates, coming down the tunnel at 8:15 a.m. with goaltending coach Mike Dunham.

Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin (yes, that’s the ‘new,’ correct spelling) are joined at the hip. Literally. Kulemin follows Grabovski all over the ice, stands next to him at chalkboard instruction and the pair arrived and left the Coliseum together. A true bromance if I ever saw one.

Grabovski, by the way, is the new Evgeni Nabokov in the locker room, always with a sarcastic sneer on his face before he says something that he typically follows with a laugh.

Ryan Strome did not look any different than when we first saw him. Crafty, shifty, and loves to pick the upper corner of the net when he has the chance to do so. Being one of only two Islanders that do not have to clear waivers if he’s sent to Bridgeport, it will be interesting to see how Capuano figures his lineup with (and possibly without) Strome.

Michael Dal Colle was noticeably quiet. There was nothing that made you sit up and take notice when he was on the ice. Perhaps that is more a result of him knowing he’s headed right back to junior after camp.

On defense, Travis Hamonic looks to be in mid-season form and there’s great news concerning Lubomir Visnovsky, who was strong and focused throughout the hour-long session. Visnovsky admitted afterwards that he went to 10 doctors to try and diagnose and properly treat his headaches and sleeping problems and did not have a great summer. His plan is to wear a new mouthguard (but make no changes to his helmet) in order to hopefully lessen the aftereffects of least season’s concussion.

Griffin Reinhart moves laterally very well and showed good angle control in one-on-one drills. What fans need to temper are their expectations of Reinhart offensively. He doesn’t look to have tremendous instincts in that department.

Here are the thoughts of the two newest Islanders and stars of the new movie coming soon to theaters, “Stepbrothers 2.” There’s also a quick clip from Reinhart:

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Group Two: Michael Grabner, who added weight in the offseason— bumping himself up to 202 lbs—did not look to be negatively affected at all in the speed department. He was his usual smooth, gliding self.

Interesting to note that Casey Cizikas and Grabner have both elected to remove the visors from their helmets this year.

It would be a shame if Cory Conacher does not make the team out of camp. It was only a practice, I know, but this kid can absolutely fly. His skating rivals Grabner’s and straight line speed is almost identical. He has been known to do wonderful things at high speed with the puck so keep a close eye on no. 89 during preseason.

Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen looked exactly as you would expect: steady, calming presences. If you didn’t know better, you would think Nelson has been in the league for 10 years. He looks to have matured greatly this summer.

On defense, Andrey Pedan can really skate. He covers a lot of ground in not a lot of strides. It almost seems like he is gliding, with his skates never actually touching the ice surface.

Matt Donovan came into camp more relaxed, stronger, and with renewed confidence. It clearly showed on Day One. His comments to me in the locker room prior revealed he was clearly affected last season by his usage and continued recalls and demotions.

Ville Pokka looks to be a boy among men, but you would not know it from watching him take part in practice. Playing overseas against opponents older than he really looks to have done wonders for his maturity and ability.

Clips: it’s hard not to love Conacher; Nelson oozes maturity; and Dono is brutally honest about 2013-14.

Group 3 : If there’s one thing Ises fans do not need to worry about going forward, it’s the health of the captain, John Tavares. He was moving around without any sign whatsoever of the injury that ended his season early last February, and he made mention of that in the post-practice clip below. The timing will come back naturally as his reps increase during camp.

Josh Ho-Sang was an interesting sight. He boasts ridiculous skating skill and the ability to handle the puck in high-traffic areas. His skill set is still very raw, obviously, but with the proper development, he could turn out to be a late first-round steal. Rich Dias did a wonderful interview with him that addressed the subject of race in hockey.

To note from the defensive players in the third group, Calvin de Haan showed no ill effects from his high ankle sprain, T.J. Brennan has a great shot from the point (showcased during tip-in drills), and Kevin Czuczman looked very good overall. He could be a dark horse in the defense competition that will surely heat up.

Clips: thoughts from Capuano on Day One; Czuczman; Anders Lee; and the captain himself.

 

All in all, it was great to be back at the Coliseum covering hockey again after trying (unsuccessfully I  might add) to watch baseball, then hearing about all the troubles in the National Football League.

The Islanders come into 2014-15 looking to make a definite statement before heading off to Barclays Center and there really isn’t much time to “think too much” (for players and fans alike).

Preseason gets underway Monday in Ottawa, followed by a game Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes and a rematch with the New Jersey Devils Friday night in Brooklyn.

Look for Friday’s roster to be close to what you will see in less than three weeks when everything starts to matter again.

 

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