Islanders’ Bridgeport visit features a competition for spots on defense
BRIDGEPORT — There’s a chance the free-agent signing with the biggest impact on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this year never plays a game for them.
The New York Islanders signed Dennis Seidenberg this week, giving them a sixth experienced NHL defenseman. His arrival probably pushes at least one more young defenseman to the Sound Tigers.
The competition continued Saturday night at Webster Bank Arena, where Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield were all in the Islanders’ lineup for an exhibition game against the Washington Capitals.
“At this level, it’s always competitive,” Mayfield said earlier in the week. “Whether (with the Islanders) or in Bridgeport, whether you’re trying to make that sixth or seventh spot or whatever, or you’re fighting for the No. 1 spot in Bridgeport.
“It doesn’t change my attitude.”
Any of the three, for as long as they’d be here, would be top players for the Sound Tigers.
Mayfield has developed into a top-pair defenseman in the AHL and has worked on his skating. Pulock developed his all-around game to go with his offensive ability and earned time last season in the NHL playoffs. Pelech took immense strides over the first year and a half of his pro career and was doing well in New York before surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome interrupted last season.
There may be a couple of edges for Mayfield. He has a one-way contract, which means he’ll get the same salary regardless of where he’s playing, while the other two are on their entry-level deals, paying a lot less in the AHL. He’d also need to clear waivers to come down.
“I want to take that step. My contract helps with that, and I’m really grateful they gave me that opportunity. I’m not as nervous. I know the guys,” Mayfield said.
“I know what the coaching staff expects. I know exactly what they want, the style of play here, what Islanders hockey is all about.”
As Islanders and former Sound Tigers coach Jack Capuano said earlier this week, there’s time to make decisions before the season starts. Their 23-man roster is due Oct. 11, the day before the NHL begins its regular season.
“My whole philosophy — ECHL, AHL, NHL — is never rush a player,” Capuano said.
He talked about how the Sound Tigers used Utah of the ECHL, its affiliate when he was with Bridgeport, to develop players like goalie Mikko Koskinen, whose career has blossomed in Russia, and Andrew MacDonald, who parlayed his time with the Grizzlies into an NHL career.
Mayfield spent the summer in Denver, where he went to college and now has a house. He said he worked more on strength in the past, but this summer was more about skating and skill going into his fourth professional season.
“Last year Scotty with us was a solid defenseman, penalty killer and leader,” Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson said. “That’s something that has really evolved from the time I started with him is his leadership on and off the ice.”
Thompson paired up Pelech and Mayfield for the second half of 2014-15 and again in the first half of 2015-16, when Pelech went up. They were together again to start Saturday’s game in front of a crowd that, filling in a bit at the start of the game, appeared maybe around two-thirds full at the opening faceoff.
The Capitals brought Mayfield’s onetime defense partner, Aaron Ness, with them for Saturday’s game; Braden Holtby, just back from the World Cup, got the start in goal.
The Islanders left many of their top veterans home, though four recent first-round draft-pick forwards were in the lineup, including Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, who are likely to wind up with the Sound Tigers.
Bridgeport’s camp begins Sunday with a team meeting, and Thompson and his team will be on the ice Monday at the Wonderland of Ice. The regular season begins at home Oct. 15.
Whichever of the three defensemen may be here then, there’s a good chance that they’ll all get a chance at one point or another. Much like Mark Twain’s line about New England weather, if you think you have enough defensemen, wait a few minutes.
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