When it comes to top prospects like Aatu Räty, William Dufour, or Simon Holmström, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello’s M.O. has usually always been to keep them down in the minors a little longer than bringing them up to the NHL too soon.
But even the Hall-of-Fame executive that has built Stanley Cup winners and contenders on the shoulders of veteran-laden teams had to admit that Raty (19 years old), Dufour (20), and Holmstrom (21) impressed him during training camp ahead of the 2022-23 season — which begins on Thursday night at UBS Arena against the Florida Panthers — even though they’ll start the season with the organization’s AHL minor-league affiliate in Bridgeport.
“They’re closer than maybe we thought they might’ve been,” Lamoriello said. “They’ll go to Bridgeport, we should have a real good team in Bridgeport, they’ll get to play a lot.”
Räty, a second-round pick last year, recorded 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games for Jukurit of Finland’s professional league. After participating in six playoff games with Bridgeport, he earned a place with Finland’s national junior team for the world championships in August in which he recorded three goals and seven assists (10 points) in 10 games while earning a silver medal.
“I think I’m a good player and could help any team. It’s a matter of time,” he told amNewYork last month. “If I’m not ready yet, I’ll be ready either in one month or two or three years. It doesn’t matter. I’ll be ready.”
Dufour had a breakout campaign with the St. John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, recording 56 goals and 60 assists while leading the junior side to a Memorial Cup. He followed that up with a stint with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships where he won gold.
“I’m coming to the camp with a point to make the team for sure,” Dufour told amNewYork. “If I can play in the NHL, I’ll try my best but if it’s not working, Bridgeport will always be there and I can’t wait to play this year.”
Holmström is the veteran of the group having completed his third Islanders camp after completing his first full season in the AHL where he posted 43 points in 68 games.
“I didn’t come here to fight for an NHL spot. It’s the NHL [or bust],” Holmström said. “After that, we see what happens. I’m here to prove myself and watch all the veterans and do my best.”
Both Räty (1G, 1A) and Holmström played in three of the Islanders’ four preseason games and were even brought back up to the big club after initially being designated for Bridgeport due to injuries that depleted New York’s exhibition ranks. Dufour appeared in just one preseason game but recorded an assist.
And now they find themselves lurking for an NHL spot.
“They’re close enough to be ready if any of our players falter at one time or another,” Lamoriello said. “We’re very comfortable with what we saw in training camp with any three of the younger players.”