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New York Islanders’ defensive corps built to last

The New York Islanders have all the makings of a superb defense corps. But they still could use a
solid veteran or two in order to reach the next level.

One look at the team’s roster tells you the Islanders can be one of the strongest defensive teams
in the NHL for years to come. The oldest member of their blue line is in the prime of his career,
while the nucleus consists of players in their mid-20s.

Johnny Boychuk is the grandfather of the group at the age of 31. A second-round pick of the
Colorado Avalanche in the 2002 draft, Boychuk spent five campaigns with the Boston Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, before being traded to New York just before the start of last
season.

It didn’t take long for Islanders general manager Garth Snow to like what he saw from Boychuk, as
he inked the native of Edmonton to a seven-year, $42 million contract five months after acquiring
him. Boychuk finished the campaign with nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points — all career
highs — while recording a plus-15 rating.

Thomas Hickey registered his second straight 22-point season in 2014-15 but finished at a
disappointing minus-12. Regardless, the 26-year-old restricted free agent was locked up for three
more years on July 1 for a reported $6.6 million.

Drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007, Hickey is unlikely to live up to the
high selection. But the Calgary native, who was claimed off waivers, still has time to improve as
he enters his fourth season in the league.

Ironically, New York’s three most promising defensemen are all 24 years of age. And one of them
is all but certain to be with the club for quite a while.

Like Boychuk, Nick Leddy was acquired in a trade on October 4, when he came over from the Chicago
Blackhawks. Also like Boychuk, he was signed to a seven-year contract midway through the season,
with his being worth $38.5 million.

NHL: MAR 21 Islanders at Devils

A native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Leddy was selected by home-state team with the 16th pick in
the 2009 draft but never played a game for the Wild as he was traded to Chicago the following
February. He did not miss a contest over his final three seasons with the Blackhawks, capturing
the Cup in 2013, and sat out only four in his first campaign with the Islanders as he posted a
career-best plus-18 rating.

Travis Hamonic already has played five seasons in the NHL since being drafted in the second round
in 2008. He matched his career high of five goals last campaign while setting a personal best
with 33 points.

Hamonic missed New York’s first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals due to
injury after registering an impressive plus-15 rating during the regular season. But he’ll likely
have more chances as he enters the third year of the — you guessed it — seven-year contract he
received from Snow.

Calvin de Haan rounds out the trio of 24-year-olds, as he just completed his second season in New
York. The native of Ontario recorded a goal and 11 assists in 65 contests but also missed time in
the playoffs with an injury.

The 27-year-old Brian Strait completes the current top six on the Islanders’ blue line, with
prospects Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock almost ready to start pushing for spots. With Lubomir
Visnovsky an unrestricted free agent and approaching the age of 39, Snow needs to bring in an
experienced veteran or two to help the younger players continue their development.

A veteran also could help New York improve defensively. The team ranked 23rd in the NHL with a
2.73 goals-against average and 26th in penalty killing with a 78 percent success rate.

The Islanders qualified for the postseason for just the second time in eight years but lost a
heartbreaking seven-game series with Washington. Injuries to Hamonic, de Haan and Visnovsky
helped in their exit, but with better health and another few pieces, the team is capable of big
things in the near future.

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