While management, coaches and fans are taking time to familiarize themselves with many new names on the 2013 Mini Camp roster, three forwards who they are undoubtedly taking a harder look at this week are Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, each of whom have a chance at earning a position on the Islanders in 2013-14.
Lee and Nelson were both given a taste of the NHL at the end of last season, while Strome has been widely considered the club’s top prospect since being selected fifth overall in 2011.
Following his three-year career at Notre Dame, Lee made the jump straight to the NHL in April. The Edina, MN native dressed for two games, scoring in his debut vs. Winnipeg on April 2, and posting an assist in the second contest on April 6. Though he didn’t dress for another game down the stretch, he remained with the Islanders for the duration of the season.
“Being up here for a month and being able to understand how things work was beneficial,” Lee said. “I got experience with the day-to-day life, getting my body ready every day and the mental side of things at the same time. I didn’t know if I was in the lineup or not each day, and just had to be ready to go no matter what. It was just a good experience and I definitely learned a lot from it. That should help me in the future.”
Nelson, a fellow Minnesota native (from Warroad), played a full season with AHL Bridgeport before getting called up to the big club for the postseason. Nelson led the Sound Tigers with 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists), playing in all situations.
“I think the year went well in terms of development,” Nelson said of his first professional season, which followed a three-year stint at the University of North Dakota. “The lifestyle is different, but it’s fun to be there and to have that opportunity. It’s every player’s dream to play professional hockey, so you’ve got to make the most of it.”
After his NHL call up, Nelson took in the atmosphere of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the stands. When a lineup spot opened up prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, the Islanders first round (30th overall) pick in 2010 stepped in and made his NHL debut.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind, but a great experience,” Nelson said of his first game. “That’s the highest level you can get to. It was bittersweet, because it ended up being the end of the year for the team. The game was exciting nonetheless.”
Strome made his pro debut the same night as Lee, albeit for the Sound Tigers, and also lit the lamp in his first game. At the conclusion of his four-year junior career with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, the Islanders first round (fifth overall) selection in the 2011 NHL Draft signed an Entry-Level Contract, and posted seven points (two goals, five assists) in 10 games.
“I think I learned how to be a pro this spring,” Strome said. “It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but I feel like I made a pretty seamless adjustment. It’s harder to play against the bigger bodies and some older guys, but I think that experience is probably the best one I’ve had in recent years. I think it really helped my development.”
Strome has his sights set on a bigger stage in the future. While this week’s camp is not a tryout for next season’s NHL roster, Strome wants to show the coaches the facets of his game that have improved since last season’s training camp.
“I think about getting to the NHL every day,” Strome said. “It’s where I want to be. Everything I do, day or night, relates to being on the Islanders.”
Lee, Strome and Nelson are each playing at a higher level than they were a year ago, leaving all three with a better idea of what it takes to make it to the NHL full-time.
“It’s another level, the jump from the American League to the big leagues,” Nelson said. “There’s not a lot of time out there to make plays. You’ve got to be quick with everything you do. That’s something I have to work on.”
“It’s positioning for me,” Lee said of his biggest summer self-improvement project. “Knowing the systems, being able to get in here and learn that and adapt to the changes from the college level is key. If you know the system, you’ll be in the right spot at the right time.”
Looking ahead to training camp in September, Strome has his own plan in place.
“I know I have to get stronger and work on all parts of my game,” Strome said. “I’m going to come to camp ready to battle. Nothing is going to be a given. I know I have to work hard. There may be question marks at training camp, and I’ll be looking to fill one of those spots and show that I belong.”
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