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The waiting game had lasted a few years now, but it has finally come to an end. And after all that, it seems to have been worth it.
The Islanders have defenseman Devon Toews up with the big club and playing like the projected top-four blueliner the organization was hoping for before he went down with a shoulder injury in the middle of last season. It helped that the 24-year-old came up just before Christmas and began his career on a six-game winning streak — while the team was in the midst of winning nine-of-10 — before the 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at the Coliseum on Tuesday night.
“I feel really good. Like, really good,” Toews told The Post on Tuesday morning, having started the season with AHL Bridgeport presumably only to make sure that he was physically able to handle a big workload and that his terrific training camp wasn’t just a fluke.
“I thought before I went down with the shoulder injury, it was nagging me a bit, but I felt like I was playing some of my best hockey,” Toews said. “The offseason was huge for that, just getting my shoulder healthy and ready to go. Training camp, I felt awesome. They make their decisions, and I support their decisions. And yeah, I felt like I was playing really good hockey down there and contributing and developing.”
Coach Barry Trotz said Toews likely deserved to make the Islanders out of training camp, but because of a glut of one-way contracts for defensemen, the prudent route was the one the team chose. But when Thomas Hickey went down with a concussion Dec. 17, that made the promotion more viable. And when it seemed like Hickey was going to be out for a while, that’s when Toews got the call.
He made his NHL debut Dec. 23 in Dallas and hasn’t looked back. He scored his second career goal against the Hurricanes, tying it 2-2 in the third period after he wheeled around the back of the net for a wraparound chance that was stopped before converting on a long snap-shot that was deflected by a Carolina defender on the way in. But the early highlight would still be the overtime winner against the Blackhawks on Thursday, with the fact that Trotz even had him out for the three-on-three extra time a testament to the coach’s immediate trust.
“I knew he was a good skater and his ability to move the puck and transport it and all that,” Trotz said when asked if anything about Toews’ game has surprised him. “Probably the poise; the poise in small areas, where some guys feel crowded, if you will. They get the puck and they whack it. He seems to have the poise in small areas, which is pretty beneficial, when you can make those small plays and understand how much pressure is around you. That part is probably what surprised me the most, the poise.”
The Islanders were able to draft the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder in the fourth round (No. 108 overall) in 2014 after his freshman year at Quinnipiac. The native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, stayed in school through the 2015-16 season and then joined the Sound Tigers for the start of 2016-17. He immediately impressed.
During the Islanders tumultuous season of 2017-18, Toews was able to play just 30 games before getting hurt and then-general manager Garth Snow was quick to cite the injury as a reason for his team’s woes. But now that Lou Lamoriello and Trotz have taken over, the Islanders are finally reaping the benefits.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on me to perform or do certain things,” Toews said. “I just try to do what I do, and help the team win. Injuries are unfortunate, but they’re part of the game. I feel so much better off of it now. The Islanders drafted me and gave me a chance when I was a 19-year-old draftee. I appreciate them for that, and their loyalty to me so far. I’m just trying to help them win games at this point.”
Mercurial winger Josh Ho-Sang was sent back to Bridgeport on Tuesday afternoon after a 10-game cameo when he put up one goal and one assist while averaging 14:31 of ice time per game. Center Valterri Filppula was activated off IR after he had missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.