The rebuilding New York Islanders are preparing for Year 3 under coach Scott Gordon. The team saw an improvement of eight wins and 18 points from 2008-09 to 2009-10 and as the kids get more experienced there is good reason for optimism.
Gordon, a former Boston College goalie who played 23 NHL games for the Quebec Nordiques, was brought to the Island after coaching the Providence Bruins of the American League for five years and assisting for three. The Bruins made the post-season each year under his watch, winning 55 games in his final season.
I recently spoke to the 47-year-old Massachusetts native who talked about the kids catching his attention at training camp, how Rick DiPietro is looking and other topics as the Islanders eye a return to the playoffs, where they haven’t been since 2007.
The Hockey News: How has first round pick Nino Niederreiter looked in training camp?
Scott Gordon: Nino has done everything we expected from a top five pick. He’s a great kid and has a great attitude, good skill, he can skate and has a big body. He’ll be given every opportunity to make our team out of camp and we’ll see what happens. He just signed his contract and he’s excited about that and were excited that’s done.
THN: Have any under-the-radar players caught your eye in training camp so far?
SG: As far as guys who have stepped forward and shown us more than I knew, Rhett Rakhshani is having a good camp for us I’ve been pleasantly pleased with his skill level and the things he’s been able to do with the puck, shooting and passing. Justin DiBenedetto has been a lot better this year, coming in from last year, his first year. We’ve been pleased with what he’s done over the summer.
THN: Do all these guys have a legitimate chance to crack the roster?
SG: I think everybody who’s here has a legitimate chance to make this team; if they didn’t have a legitimate chance they wouldn’t be here. They maybe have to beat somebody out for a position, which isn’t an easy task, like any opportunity. We’re just basing everything on practices, so how we are in a game when it’s for real is a little bit different, too.
THN: Have any of the kids on the NHL squad stepped up and asserted themselves as a leader?
SG: I think with experience comes confidence and I think all of our young players are a little more confident than they were in their first or second year. We’ve seen tremendous gains by John Tavares and Josh Bailey with their off-ice programs and guys who are more established as far as being maybe third- and fourth-year players are coming in here with a clear head and knowing what they need to do in order to be successful.
THN: What was the transition from the AHL to the NHL like for you?
SG: I came into the season without a full deck; Ricky (DiPietro) wasn’t ready for training camp and the first month of the season we had four of our top defensemen out with injuries, so by the time they started to get healthy we lost a ton of forwards, so next thing you know we’re last place and 20 games under .500 and its almost an impossible hole to climb out of. The best part of that first year was just going into the second half of the season with the mindset that were going to get our younger players ready for the next year and that to me was a huge turning point for us.
THN: Speaking of DiPietro, how is the goaltending situation looking?
SG: Ricky, we’ve been happy with his progress, it’s the first summer he’s been able to train like a professional athlete to prepare for the season versus training as an injured athlete and just rehabbing and get himself back up to par. He’s been on the ice according to the schedule we’ve given him. We’re being smart about it. He’s been on for two days, off for two days and then on for two and off again. We know we can’t expect him to come back and just go all out every single day in a training camp when he hasn’t been a part of one for two years, so we’re just being level-headed about it and not trying to force the issue on him.
THN: What goals have you set for this season?
SG: The players individually set their goals; I don’t like to put marks on a player to say that he’s going to score X amount of goals or Y amount of assists. As a team we know we have room for improvement and I think for us to be successful beyond last year we need to shore up areas like special teams. The way I look at it is, if we can be whatever percentage better in those categories it wouldn’t take much improvement to all of a sudden turn 34 wins hopefully into six more and have your 40 wins and hopefully that’s enough to make the playoffs.
THN: Would you like to say anything to the Islanders fans?
SG: Be patient. This wasn’t supposed to happen overnight and it certainly hasn’t happened overnight. But the process is hopefully going to be very rewarding to everybody.
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