There's scarcely anything in hockey more enjoyable for me than getting to meet the newest members of the New York Islanders. Prospect mini-camp week is my chance to view many of the young players management believes will be the next stars on Long Island.
It's done at this time of year when hockey is dormant, in a fairly relaxed atmosphere, which makes for an easier transition to the pro game for the players, and fewer barriers exist for media and bloggers when trying to converse with them.
One of the newest selections, fresh out of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (chosen at #34 overall), is Scott Mayfield. An affable and approachable 18 year old with a winning smile, the tall (6'4") defenseman told me that his being passed over in the first round will be a motivating factor for him.
"It was kind of tough sitting there Friday night (1st round). I sat there for 30 picks and wasn't called, but at the same time I can use it for more motivation." But, he added, now that the matter is settled, he "couldn't be happier [to be a part of] this organization. Everything's more professional here."
Mayfield is committed to the University of Denver, where fellow prospects Rhett Rakhshani and Matt Donovan played their college hockey. He's working on the offensive facets of his game after saying that his numbers were down last season, he's looking to add some weight, and is simply taking in his new environment.
He even tried an Italian ice, which he was told is something of a Long Island specialty.
As the first players went off the ice and the new shift emerged from the bowels of the arena, news broke that Jeremy Collition had been signed to a new deal.
The second shift, or the White Team, as they're being called in advance of Saturday night's prospect game, allowed me to have a look at Mei Ushu. He's a big kid, listed at 6'0" and 196 pounds, a sophomore from Waseda University in Japan.
I introduced myself and wished the young man good luck, but I'll have more on him after the game on Saturday.
When the second group was winding down their activities, I had a few moments with two important members of the Islanders, both who hope to move their careers and team(s) from the "potential" column into tangible results. I am referring to Kirill Kabanov and Coach Jack Capuano.
Kabanov, who perhaps didn't leave such great impressions in his bosses minds last season, seems a bit more focused on his game this year. He told me he's working to be as good in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive one, including blocking shots and back checking. He also has his mother joining him on Long Island this summer as well to help keep tabs on him.
During his down time, he's enjoying tennis and the beach like any other soon-to-be 19 year old. He's making sure that he's on time this year, and I even witnessed him sharing a moment with fellow prospect Andrey Pedan, with whom he shares a common language. While they were engaged in a private conversation, perhaps Kirill was imparting some 'veteran' (of mini-camp, at least) wisdom to the Lithuanian defenseman.
Jack Capuano summed up the day by saying that the camp is about putting aside college rivalries, working together as members of the Islanders family, and getting a change to meet potential teammates of the future.
The coach mentioned Brock Nelson as a player who had improved from last year. He also liked "where Calvin [DeHaan] is mentally," believing that this camp will be used for him to "make a statement."
Let's hope that's the mindset of all of the attendees, and that they put on an impressive show on Saturday night.