But this year’s training camp has altered one of those. MacDonald, entering his sixth year with the club, has been paired with up-and-coming blueliner Matt Donovan for much of camp, including two of the team’s preseason games.
Despite being paired with the same defense partner for most of the last three seasons, MacDonald says the experiment has gone smoothly so far.
“I think he (Donovan) learns pretty quickly and has picked up on everything the coaches wanted him to do,” MacDonald said. “He's a smart kid and has good instincts. So far it's been very easy.”
Donovan, who paced AHL Bridgeport defenseman last season in all offensive categories, led the Sound Tigers with 34 assists and ranked third with 48 points. MacDonald believes the 23-year-old can provide an offensive threat at the NHL level.
“Donovan likes to jump up in the play a bit and he'll create a lot more offensively,” MacDonald said. “With Travis, we were more likely to stay back and concentrate on defense because we were often up against the top line. It's hard to be really offense-oriented in that situation.”
Donovan played three games with the Islanders at the end of the 2011-12 season, but wants to make the full-time jump to the NHL this time around. Because of the seamless philosophies between the Islanders and their AHL affiliate, Donovan says the adjustments thus far in camp have been minimal.
“It's pretty much exactly the same playing style,” Donovan said. “I played for Coach (Brent) Thompson in Bridgeport a couple of seasons ago so I know his expectations and what he likes. It's been easy so far.”
Though MacDonald says he hasn’t had a lot of advice to give the rookie, Donovan has absorbed all the lessons from his camp defense partner.
“He talks to me a lot and tells me what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong,” Donovan said. “Coach Thompson makes it easy also. He likes to talk and coach a lot.”
Nothing indicates that this camp experiment will be a permanent change, but a two-week preseason schedule has provided head coach Jack Capuano with the ability to tinker with lines and defense pairings. Capuano has said that there are spots on the back end open for competition, and Donovan is doing everything possible to keep his name in the mix.
“I've been working hard and focusing every day,” Donovan said. “The two games I played didn't go our way, but I think I played pretty well and I just have to keep working hard and hopefully I make the team.”
Two preseason games doesn’t give the MacDonald-Donovan pairing the same stability as the IRS or the Grim Reaper, but given MacDonald’s proven ability to help develop a young defensive partner into a high-end talent, Long Islanders should embrace the new duo.
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