The New York Islanders are preparing to trot out their fourth line — better labeled their identity line — of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck for the eighth time in the last decade during the 2022-23 season. It’s just going to be delayed a bit.
Clutterbuck is starting the season on injured reserve, retroactive Sept. 26, as he finishes recovering from shoulder surgery that stemmed from an injury suffered in March.
“It’s kind of a next-man-up mentality,” Martin, who is preparing for his 12th season with the Islanders, told amNewYork on Wednesday. “I don’t know if who’s been playing with us has been confirmed, but I think Sosh is in there.”
He’s referring to right-winger Nikita Soshnikov, who was signed from the KHL in Russia just three weeks ago but had a strong enough camp where he was able to crack the Islanders’ opening-night roster.
The 28-year-old played alongside Martin and now-Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello during his two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before appearing in 17 games with the St. Louis Blues. After recording just seven goals and seven assists in 70 career games, he returned to Russia for three seasons before Lamoriello came calling again.
Soshnikov posted a goal and an assist in four preseason games upon his return to North America while filling a bottom-six role that came with penalty-killing responsibilities.
“When he was healthy, exactly what you see is what I saw there as far as exceptional speed, exceptional shot,” Lamoriello said. “Plays good defense, a penalty killer… He’s done extremely well in training camp, and we’ll see where it takes us. He brings speed, No. 1, and he’s not afraid. He competes.”
That’s why he’s the logical fill-in for Clutterbuck, which naturally would provide an adjustment period to work onto a line that has been together for so long.
“It’s more learning our systems… I’m sure they have a bit of a different structure [in the KHL] than NHL teams,” Martin said. “For him, it’s really trying to communicate with him a lot to have him understand the terminology… and help him along so that he feels comfortable and he knows where he’s supposed to go and know what’s going on. In terms of his talent and skillset, he’s a capable player. He can do that. It’s just everyone being on the same page and that’s the main focus right now.”
“I feel more up to speed, actually. So I can say I adapted,” Soshnikov added to Stefen Rosner of NYI Hockey Now earlier this week. “I think I played well [during preseason] and that’s what the coaching staff told me, too. So whatever I could do, you know, that depends on me.”
Soshnikov will undoubtedly bring some finesse and that speed to a heavy line that has made its living off a strong forecheck and a grind-it-out style of play. Luckily he’ll be playing in first-year head coach Lane Lambert’s new system that calls upon the defense to help support the strong forechecking brand made common by the identity line.
“I think it’s really going to help everybody, to be honest with you,” Martin said. “With the defense being up and keeping pucks alive, joining the attack, trying to out-number teams as opposed to playing 3-on-3, it’s hard to beat people in this league playing 1-on-1. You want to out-number and get odd-man rushes as much as possible to help your percentages of creating offense.
“For a line like us, we like to get on the forecheck, pucks squirt up the wall, it sounds like our defense is going to be a lot more aggressive to keep pucks alive for us. I think that’s going to benefit our line but also everybody.”