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With Cal Clutterbuck out for the first four to six weeks of the season, forwards Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom and Brock Nelson have a chance to be playing early and often for the Islanders in October as the offseason acquisition's replacement.
The Islanders came one step closer to finalizing their roster this week, splitting their roster into an "A" and "B" squad at practice. Nelson and Strome are both included in group "A," as are defensemen Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart.
Each of the Islanders' top forward prospects plays a different kind of game.
Nelson is the most well-rounded of the three. He'd likely be able to come in and be trusted to kill penalties and take key faceoffs. He has some experience on the wing from his time at North Dakota, and according to Arthur Staple of Newsday, he's been practicing at left wing on a line with Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Considered a top-50 NHL prospect by many, Strome will find himself playing top-six minutes sooner than later for the Islanders. As the season inches closer, however, Strome hasn't quite delivered the way the Isles might've hoped in the preseason. He's only tallied one assist with three games remaining.
Lee, a Notre Dame alumnus, may come closest to bringing some of the physical attributes Clutterbuck possesses to the lineup.
At 6'2", 225 pounds, Lee has a nose for the net and doesn't shy away from the dirty areas of the ice. He opened the scoring and later assisted on the game-winning goal in the Islanders' only win this preseason. Lee's defensive game may not quite be there yet, however. In his two games last season with the Islanders, he was on the ice for every goal against the team.
Sundstrom, the dark-horse candidate, also skated with the "A" group Tuesday, on a fifth line with Strome and Eric Boulton.
Injuries like Clutterbuck's are sure to pop up throughout the season, and no matter who makes the team out of camp, each of these standouts will get a fair shake at proving themselves and getting NHL experience before the regular season ends. If any veterans struggle, they could be forced out by strong play from the rookies.
On defense, Donovan and Reinhart have both looked good in preseason action and are skating with the "A" group as well.
Donovan has dominated at the AHL level and appears more than ready to graduate to the NHL level. He's spent most of the preseason paired with Andrew MacDonald, whom he could be partnered with if he makes the Islanders out of preseason. This week, the pairings were shifted a bit, and Donovan skated with Brian Strait.
Reinhart, who's skated with 2013 first-round pick Ryan Pulock through the majority of camp, was paired with Matt Carkner. Donovan is a near guarantee to make the final roster at this point, but Reinhart's status is unclear. He's played well enough to make it, but the Islanders will only have nine regular-season games to make a decision since he's not eligible to play in the AHL.