Bridgeport's top line - Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Mike Halmo - look to reinforce the Isles roster.
|Anders Lee battles Lubomir Visnovsky during Tuesday's practice.|
Strome, Lee and Halmo made up Bridgeport’s top line and lead the Sound Tigers in scoring in that order. They are here to reinforce an Islanders lineup that is without captain John Tavares, center Frans Nielsen and winger Matt Martin, but the call up is based on merit, as well as necessity. The trio have led the Sound Tigers to six straight wins and 11-of-13 overall.
“The team is playing really well down there,” Strome said. “That’s how individuals get rewarded, through good team play. Everything is clicking down there, but we’re going to try to bring some of that up here.”
Strome currently leads the Sound Tigers with 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists) in 37 games and is three points shy of the AHL’s rookie scoring lead, despite playing 17 fewer games. Lee is fifth in AHL rookie scoring with 41 points (22 goals, 19 assists), but is second among all first-year pros in goals. Halmo is third on the Sound Tigers with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists).
Capuano isn’t asking the young guns to carry the offensive load, but rather to work hard, chip in and seize the opportunity to showcase themselves. He wants all three to play relaxed, poised, confident and with swagger.
Strome said Capuano told him to play his game, play hard and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
“Be comfortable, be confident and play my game,” Strome was told. “Try to act like a seasoned vet and pretend you’re not a rookie. Just go out and play.”
The Islanders fifth-overall pick in 2011 practiced on a line with Lee and Colin McDonald, and the Bridgeport linemates should yield instant chemistry if the line stays intact. Lee said he and Strome are very comfortable together and know where to find each other on the ice. If Strome is a small, but gifted playmaker, than Lee’s size and finishing ability around the net is the perfect compliment.
At 6’2”, 225 lbs, Lee is a fixture in the blue paint. He should have the size to battle with most NHL defenseman and Capuano said he’s going to give the 23-year-old some power-play minutes, a golden opportunity for a developing prospect.
“He’s a big body,” Capuano said. “He goes to the net. You could see it in practice today. He protects the puck well and he’s going to get some minutes. [Anders] will play on the power play in front of the net. We’re going to give him an opportunity.”
Lee scored in his NHL debut last season and credits his two-game stint with the Islanders as a key step in his development this season.
“Any time you can get a couple of games in up here it’s going to help you because it slows the game down,” Lee said. “Last year I took a lot from the guys – I tried to grab as much as I could – and it helped fuel me for this year.”
If Strome and Lee are the de facto replacements for Tavares and Nielsen, Halmo is in line for Martin’s duties. Halmo, who hopes to make his NHL debut on his first call up, practiced on the fourth line with Eric Boulton and Casey Cizikas. He’ll be expected to help fill the physical void left by Martin’s injury – a role he is more than comfortable playing.
“Down there I’ve felt more pressure to produce, but here I don’t feel that pressure,” Halmo said. “I am going to play simple, finish checks and work hard.”
|Mike Halmo skates during Tuesday's practice at Nassau Coliseum.|
The feisty winger described his game for fans that aren’t familiar.
“I bring a physical presence, that’s what my game is based off of,” he said. “Once that gets going, everything else gets into gear. [I’m going to] finish every check and keep things simple.”
Capuano said the NHL is initially going to be a big jump for Halmo, who went undrafted, but that he deserves the chance to play with the Islanders. The coach cited his gritty play and battle level and said Halmo could see some time on the penalty kill.
“He’s just a hard working, gritty kid,” Capuano said. “When you call down there you want guys that work hard.”
Strome, Lee and Halmo look to carry their strong work ethic and red-hot momentum from the Sound Tigers to the Islanders starting Thursday, when the Isles host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Coliseum.