Brian Strait was on the outside looking in just two weeks ago, planning for the long drive from Pittsburgh back to Wilkes-Barre where he’d continue working toward his NHL dream. He was placed on waivers during training camp, and expected to return to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate, where he’d played 220 games over the last four seasons. But before the 24-hour waiver window closed on Jan. 18, the Islanders canceled his road trip, claiming the Boston native to shore up their blue line.
Just six games into the season, the Islanders made a bigger commitment to Strait, inking him to a three-year extension through 2015-16.
“I was ecstatic that they wanted me to be an Islander for three more years,” Strait said. “I jumped on the opportunity obviously. Since I came here, it’s been great. I couldn’t ask for a better change. I appreciate everything the Islanders are doing for me. It’s a dream come true.”
While Islander fans are just getting to know Strait, who has been matched up with Mark Streit on the Islanders top defensive pairing, the coaching staff and management have followed the 25-year-old’s progress for years. Strait was drafted by the Penguins in 2006 and has appeared in 12 games for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano is among those least surprised by Strait’s immediate success with the Islanders.
“Everybody’s seen him play in the past and we knew what he could bring to the table,” Capuano said. “He’s a good, solid individual, a great character guy who fits in our room and that’s the most important thing. Secondly, I think his play speaks volumes. He has good decision-making and moves the puck real well. Defensively he’s been real strong. It’s not real surprising for us.”
More surprised, perhaps, was Strait, who was one of four waiver claims trying to earn a long-term roster spot with the Islanders.
“I thought maybe if I played a good 20-25 games that things would happen, but obviously they saw something and wanted to make a deal earlier. I was extremely excited. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Capuano expects Strait to follow the path of other Islanders who’d been overlooked by other organizations before finding success on Long Island.
“If you look at Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, those are guys that really didn’t get too much of a chance with other organizations for whatever reason, and they got a chance and really excelled here,” Capuano said. “Brian’s got a good mind about the game and he goes about his business and that’s what I like. He’s deserving of the opportunity that he got and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Signing the contract extension is by no means a finish line for the 6’1, 200-pound blueliner. He knows what he has to do to continue helping the team win hockey games.
“I have to stick to my attributes, the things that I do well, in order to help the team,” Strait said. “That means playing strong defense. I’m considered a defensive defenseman. The simpler I keep it and the more times I can get the puck out of our zone and up to our forwards, who are extremely skilled and can score at the blink of an eye, I’m helping our team.”
As a defensive defenseman, Strait provides stability on the Islanders back end. And the three-year commitment does likewise for Strait.
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