New York Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello hinted for a moment that there are some players who could very well make it onto the NHL roster — at least on the defensive end of the ice.
“We have some young players who are very close to playing,” Lamoriello said on Monday. “They’re going to get the opportunity to push or earn that position.”
The Islanders currently have vacant positions for their sixth and seventh defensemen, which will likely come down to the three-way competition of Robin Salo, Grant Hutton, and Dennis Cholowski.
But such optimism isn’t necessarily permeating through to the forward lines as the Hall-of-Fame executive’s staunch philosophy of overpreparing young players in the minors remains unmoved.
Aatu Räty and William Dufour are two of the highest-ranked prospects within the organization’s pipeline. For a side that has had problems putting the puck consistently in the back of the net, two offensively talented youngsters (Raty is 19, Dufour is 20) could certainly provide a change of pace to a side that has remained largely unchanged over the past three seasons.
“They’re prospects but how close they are, I couldn’t tell you at this point. They’ll tell us through training camp,” Lamoriello continued, pointing toward training camp that begins on Thursday. “If I had a crystal ball, I’d say they’re not ready at this point. I’m of the belief that I’d rather have them come up too late when it comes to the young players.”
That isn’t knocking the youngsters’ sights any lower, though.
“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.”
Dufour is coming off a monstrous season 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 subsequently starred for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships where he won gold.
“Winning is something tough in your career. Players have never won something in their life,” Dufour said. “I had a chance to win back-to-back the Memorial Cup and World Juniors. It was the first time in my career I won something, also. I never won in pee-wee at home…
“For my confidence, it’s way higher than it was with the season I had. I couldn’t have asked for more this year.”
Räty won silver at the world juniors with Finland after playing professionally in his native land, posting 40 points in 41 games. He also had a quick stint in Bridgeport, home of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate where he posted four points in six postseason games.
“I think I’m a good player and could help any team. It’s a matter of time,” he told amNewYork. “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.
“I’m just trying to be the best version of myself, try to play as well as I can, and I’m sure they’ll find the perfect spot for me when the season starts, either in Bridgeport or with the Islanders.”
Both Räty and Dufour will need to adjust to life in North America playing against veteran opponents sometimes 10-15 years their senior, which is likely one of the reasons why Lamoriello doesn’t see such optimism for them breaking into the NHL this season.
That might not be the case for 21-year-old Simon Holmström, who completed his third rookie camp with the Islanders and is coming off a breakout campaign in the AHL where he posted 43 points in 68 games.
“It let me know that I actually can do it,” Holmström exclusively told amNewYork. “I have to believe in myself and do what I’m good at… Just trusting myself and just have fun out there.
Needless to say this is a big training camp for the Swede, who has at times been put on the proverbial backburner when it comes to talks of prospects after the emergence of both Dufour and Räty
“It’s good to challenge yourself and make yourself better and everyone better as well,” he said. “I’m here to show what I can do and hopefully, that’s enough. [The NHL] is my goal. That’s what I’m here to do.
“I don’t come here to fight for an NHL spot. It’s the NHL [or bust]. After that, we see what happens. I’m here to prove myself and watch all the veterans and do my best.”