The Islanders made one key roster decision on Monday and got to push another one back, thanks to injury.
Right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who has not practiced recently, was placed on injured reserve with “soreness,” according to general manager Lou Lamoriello, meaning a decision on the final forward spots can be deferred, with Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom and Nikita Soshnikov all a part of the initial 23-man roster. Bellows ended the preseason on a high note in his quest to earn a spot in the top nine, but Lamoriello said Monday that it would still be a competition.
“Up until the last couple of games, he really wasn’t where he should have been,” Lamoriello said. “But I’m really pleased with the way he played in the last game. … We’re pleased with him. We know what we want out of him. He knows what we want out of him. He has to shoot the puck. And he has to put points up as well as be physical.”
Though sending one of Bellows, Wahlstrom or Soshnikov down doesn’t have to happen yet, the can hasn’t been kicked that far down the road. Lamoriello said Clutterbuck has been skating on his own and will be day-to-day, even leaving the door open for him to be on the roster as soon as Thursday’s opener, though he conceded that was “doubtful.” Clutterbuck is on IR retroactive to Sept. 26, meaning the seven-day minimum he’s required to miss already has passed.
As for the defense, the good news is that Scott Mayfield — who had also missed practices with an undisclosed injury — does not join Clutterbuck on IR, with Lamoriello saying he is “100 percent.” Sebastian Aho earned the seventh spot, but unless Mayfield is not ready to play in Thursday’s game, he will presumably be a healthy scratch.
Aho, who looked to be on the outs at the start of camp, put together one of his best performances in recent memory against the Rangers with a touch-pass assist on Bellows’ opening goal that punctuated an all-around great performance passing the puck and helping create in the offensive zone. That helped vault him ahead of Grant Hutton, who was waived Sunday with the intention of being sent to Bridgeport, on the depth chart.
“He’s a left shot, he’s offensively minded, and he plays up-tempo,” Lamoriello said. “We know what we can get out of him. And Robin [Salo] appears to have taken the sixth spot at this point on his play.”
As for the forward group, Wahlstrom — who has been dealing with an upper-body injury of his own toward the end of camp — remains the most fascinating piece of the puzzle. Even with Clutterbuck out, it is no guarantee that Wahlstrom actually plays on Thursday. It seems likely, in fact, that he and Soshnikov will be up in the press box.
“Oliver’s first day of practice was today, him also being under the weather a little,” Lamoriello said. “And I’m sure the coaching staff is gonna come up with the best lineup for Thursday, but it’s nice to have these types of decisions and this type of competition.”
Since Wahlstrom is the only forward on the roster who does not require waivers to be sent to Bridgeport, it is still an open question as to whether he will still be on Long Island once Clutterbuck returns.
Even when he and Barry Trotz struggled to get along last year, that possibility would have seemed farfetched. But the fact is, Wahlstrom had just six points after the All-Star break last season, fumbled his chance to play alongside Mathew Barzal and — even if partially due to injury — has been outpaced by Bellows during this camp. If the Islanders are comfortable with exposing Soshnikov, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2019, to waivers, then this is moot.
But if not, or if it is decided that the 22-year-old Wahlstrom would benefit from playing every night in Bridgeport, then that is what will happen.
Lamoriello said that defenseman Bode Wilde and forward Richard Panik will be “assigned within the next 48 hours to a different location.”