Kevin SchultzThe Islanders announced their 23-man roster and three rookies made the cut: Brock Nelson, Griffin Reinhart and Matt Donovan. The former two are first-round picks from 2010 and 2012, and the latter is an AHL All-Star from last season. While those three certainly have solid pedigrees, one big name missing from the roster is 20-year-old, 2011 first round pick Ryan Strome.
The Islanders have done a complete 180-degree turn on how they develop their prospects over the last two seasons. Gone are the days of sticking Josh Bailey in the lineup fresh as an 18-year-old and Nino Niederreiter as a 19-year-old either for cap reasons or because, especially in Bailey’s case, the roster was bare. Now, they’re being increasingly patient with their prospects and holding back players who are quite likely ready for the big show. It’s a delicate balance of not handing the players a roster spot and letting them take it for granted and risking frustrating them, a prime example being Nino Niederreiter’s reaction to not being given a tryout in January.
Strome is a blue-chip prospect who has had a great development. He’s excelled in the OHL, hasn’t suffered any injury setbacks (knock on wood) and doesn’t have any off-ice issues. There’s really no reason not to give him a chance to make the NHL club. He put up 1.77 points per game in the OHL last year and now will have to wait behind the likes of free agent signees Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
The Islanders never really gave him that chance to usurp them.
Throughout the preseason, Strome was paired on a line with fellow prospects Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. None of the three were locks to make the team and Nelson — who made the final cut and unlike Strome has a year of AHL experience — only got a real, clear shot at it when Cal Clutterbuck went down with an injury. Throughout the final preseason games, Nelson skated alongside Regin and Bouchard on what appears to be the team’s third line while Strome continued on a prospect line and, tellingly, didn’t skate in what was essentially an NHL lineup on Friday at the Coliseum against Nashville.
With a whole host of forwards locked up on long-term deals plus the two free agents, the Islanders forward corps was already set before training camp began. The team appeared, and still appears, set on giving Bouchard and Regin a chance to prove themselves. Both are injury prone — although Bouchard has been healthy the last couple years — and have something to prove at the NHL level.
It’s not a horrendous mistake to put Strome in the AHL. But for the Islanders the trick is to realize that if either falters, they have more than viable options in waiting. The Islanders have been reluctant to cut veterans during the season (exhibit A: Marty Reasoner), because there hasn’t been much in the talent pool to replace those vets. Hopefully now they realize that if those veterans don’t perform there are players who are more than ready to step in.