Both Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson skated with the Islanders on Thursday as the team slowly inches back to full strength after a nightmare month of injuries and COVID-19 infection.
A little over a week ago, the Islanders were missing more than half of their opening-night roster as eight skaters were sidelined due to COVID, and another two — Nelson and top defenseman Ryan Pulock — were placed on injured reserve.
Seven of those eight COVID-stricken players are back in the fold for the Islanders with Cizikas the last to return — though his appearance at morning skate confirmed that he was out of the league’s protocol.
Nelson, who was dealing with a lower-body injury, hasn’t seen the ice since Nov. 21 where he was forced out of the Islanders’ second-ever game at UBS Arena after sustaining a lower-body injury during a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite the two-plus-week absence, Nelson is still the team leader with nine goals this season.
Both he and Cizikas are just “days away” from getting back to game action, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz revealed on Thursday.
“Hopefully we get them sooner rather than later.,” Trotz added. “We’re getting some faces back obviously that we haven’t seen. We have to get everyone back and playing.”
On the backend, Noah Dobson hit the 100-career-games plateau Thursday night against the Nashville Predators as he continues to develop into an integral defenseman of the future.
The 21-year-old has shouldered more responsibility well, exhibiting high-end play during back-to-back games against the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks that saw him post career highs in ice time.
“We knew who we were getting with Dobber, it was just going to take some time,” fellow defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “He has the talent and the skating and the skill… He’s a special player to watch so it’s nice to see him come into his stride.”
It’s not often the Islanders lean so heavily on young players. Trotz and team president Lou Lamoriello have certainly shown an affinity to give more minutes to veteran players. But extenuating circumstances have forced the team to lean on Dobson — and he hasn’t disappointed.
“Everybody sees the growth and some of it has been well calculated by the organization. Some of it has been good mentoring by some of our mentoring players,” Trotz said. “Through necessity or good play, he’s gotten more important minutes… His game raised to a little higher level. Those are important steps players have to take.
“This year with not as much depth on the back end, losing a guy like Nick Leddy, Noah has been put into a more prominent position… he’s dealt with it pretty well. One-hundred games for a defenseman is a really short time for a defenseman. Most people judge a defenseman until he gets 300 games or so, but 100 games is a good start in this league.”