Islanders ready to throw Thomas Vanek right onto top line
There will not be a grace period for Thomas Vanek. Not with his skill set and not with the Rangers visiting the Island for the first — and only — time this season.
“With a guy like him, he’ll be on our first [power-play] unit. He’ll play with [John Tavares] and Kyle [Okposo],” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said of the newest Islanders after the optional skate prior to Tuesday night’s Rangers-Islanders game at the Coliseum.
Vanek had three shot attempts in 19:49 of ice time.
“He’ll play the offside and get him right in the mix. I don’t think there’s a better game, with the rivalry that we have. Vanek is a skill guy, he’s good with the puck [and] he’s a top line. He’s an elite player in this game. So there’s no question he’ll play with Johnny.”
Vanek was acquired from Buffalo Sunday night in a blockbuster trade that saw Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in this June’s draft and a 2015 second-round pick be shipped to the Sabres.
Sportsnet in Canada and TSN reported Tuesday the Sabres retained 19.4 percent of Vanek’s 2013-14 salary in the trade — believed to be about $1.4 million. TSN also reported Buffalo had broached the subject of a Vanek trade to Atlantic Division rival Toronto.
Both Vanek and Moulson are unrestricted free agents this summer.
Vanek reported to the Islanders Monday, which included participating in a practice at the Coliseum. The 29-year-old has scored 497 points (254 goals and 243 assists) in 598 NHL games, all with Buffalo. He recorded nine points (four goals and five assists) in 13 games for the league-worst Sabres.
The left wing’s offensive production has long been known by those in and around the NHL. But an intangible stood out to Tavares.
“I think the things I always noticed about him as a player that [was] underrated was how strong he was on the puck,” Tavares said. “I never really realized that except a couple times playing against him and seeing him at practice [Monday]. [He is] just really strong on the puck and he obviously has tremendous patience and has calmness when he has it. [He] always seems to make the right decision and he has some great hands and great instincts. So I think his strength on the puck, the way he uses his body, is really underrated.”
Vanek’s arrival should bolster one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive attacks. The Islanders’ 3.09 goals per game average is tied for eighth in the league with Calgary. What Vanek’s presence doesn’t do is remedy a team defense and goaltending that has allowed 3.09 goals per game.
“For me, we have to defend harder,” Capuano said. “We’ve given up goals right in the dirty areas and you have to be able to play without the puck. That’s the part we have to get better at.”
Sportsnet in Canada and TSN reported Tuesday the Sabres retained 19.4 percent of Vanek’s 2013-14 salary in the trade — believed to be about $1.4 million. TSN also reported that Buffalo had broached the subject of a Vanek trade to Atlantic Division-rival Toronto.
ESPN subsequently reported that the Islanders can defer the 2014 first-round pick to 2015.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.