Isles begin new season with fresh look
Nineteen-year-old first-rounders make final cut before opener
The New Kids on the Block will be playing Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
No, not those five former pop heartthrobs from Beantown who are in their mid- to late-40s now, and still belting them out I might add.
I’m talking about Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, the New York Islanders’ first-round picks from the 2015 NHL Draft.
Both 19-year-olds made the team’s final cut for the season-opening 23-man roster on Tuesday, and both should see ice time Thursday when the Islanders open their second season as our borough’s coolest franchise on ice against the arch rival Rangers at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
For general manager Garth Snow, these are the types of young, dynamic players he envisions filling the roles of departed free agents like Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, all three of whom were important hubs in New York’s ascension from NHL bottom feeders to perennial playoff contenders.
Barzal, who was selected 16th overall, and Beauvillier, taken with the 28th pick, spent most of the Isles’ recently completed preseason slate doing their best to please head coach Jack Capuano.
And to alert Snow that they were ready to jump into action this year, rather than down the line as the Isles try to build upon their first season with a playoff series win since 1993.
“It’s a dream come true for us,” said Beauvillier, who potted the game-winning goal in last Wednesday’s exhibition contest against New Jersey.
“It’s hard to describe,” he added. “I worked as hard as I could to show the coaches I’m ready. I’m just very happy right now. It’s hard to describe, I’m just really, really happy to have made the team for the beginning of the season and who knows what the future holds.”
That happiness could be temporary, of course, since the Isles still have the option of sending both highly touted prospects back down to their junior clubs after nine games without officially activating their entry-level NHL contracts.
“We have the luxury of having nine games with those guys and if we didn’t think they were ready to help us, we would have sent them back to their junior programs,” Capuano noted.
That means the first nine games of the 2016-17 campaign will simply be a continuation of training camp and the preseason for Barzal and Beauvillier, but neither is interested in wearing any sweater other than the Orange-and-Blue for the remainder of this upcoming campaign.
“It’s probably the coolest thing in my life,” Barzal told the team’s website on Tuesday after receiving the news.
“It’s just a real cool time, but I’m not trying to get too excited. I’ll have fun with it for a couple hours here and be excited, but come tomorrow, I’m still on a tryout, so I’m coming in and just trying to be the hardest worker every day.”
Josh Ho-Sang, an Isles first-rounder in 2014 who also showed signs that he was ready to begin the season in Brooklyn, didn’t quite make the cut.
But that doesn’t mean that he won’t get his first taste of the NHL later on this season, especially if either Barzal or Beauvillier falter early.
Young players like Shane Prince, Alan Quine and Ryan Strome, none of whom is above 23, and second-year goaltender Jean-Francois Berube, 25, each chipped in their fair share during New York’s run to the conference semifinals a season ago.
And all four joined Barzal and Beauvillier on this year’s season-opening roster.
If the New Kids can continue their preseason success once the puck drops at the Garden Thursday night, the Isles may find themselves battling for the Metropolitan Division title, or at the very least, the team’s fourth playoff berth in the past five seasons.
Isle Have Another: Though he wouldn’t commit to a set first line, Capuano indicated following Tuesday’s practice that veteran winger Jason Chimera could very well join team captain John Tavares and newly signed free agent Andrew Ladd on the team’s top unit. “I liked what I saw today, I liked the speed of that line,” Capuano said. “Johnny is obviously one of those guys that thinks the game real well and Andrew goes to the net and Chimera has some speed. So it was worth an opportunity today.” … Capuano will carry three goalies, as he did for a good portion of last season, as Berube will sit behind starter Jaroslav Halak and last year’s late-season hero Thomas Greiss, both of whom participated in the recently completed World Cup of Hockey in Toronto … The Isles will visit Washington on Saturday before kicking off a five-game homestand Sunday evening in their Barclays Center opener against the Anaheim Ducks.
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