BRIDGEPORT C.T. – Defense wins championships—a mantra the New York Islanders abide by through and through. It’s well documented that the Islanders defense has been a strength ever since Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz both stepped into the organization about 18 months ago.
Bode Wilde, a 2018 second-round draft pick for New York, made his home debut for Bridgeport Saturday evening after recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the beginning of the season. The rangy defenseman was seen as a first-round talent entering his draft year. Wilde was criticized by some for de-committing from college hockey and opting to play in the Ontario Hockey League. Various scouts and general managers believed he couldn’t work on his overall game and may lack the maturation needed to make the jump quickly out of his draft year after that decision.
“Everything moves quicker. Guys are bigger. Hits are harder,” Wilde said about playing in the AHL. “The adjustment has been easy just working through the practices.”
The Islanders have put an emphasis on drafting defense ever since the 2012 NHL draft when former general manager Garth Snow used all seven selections on defensemen. Although many of those picks didn’t materialize for the Islanders, there’s a new crop of youngsters who seem eager to step up with an added emphasis again on continually adding to the blue line.
Veteran defenseman Seth Helgeson was paired with Wilde on Saturday and has taken on the responsibility of helping ease other youngsters to the professional game.
“We have a complete four-line, six-defensemen team. That’s something we take seriously,” Helgeson said. “We know we have a lot of skilled guys up and down the lineup and if you have to jump in, you know what’s expected of you.”
The logjam on defense isn’t just affecting the parent club as Noah Dobson continues to be scratched for the Islanders. Sebastian Aho, Thomas Hickey, Parker Wotherspoon and injured Mitchell Vande Sompel are all believed to be in the mix to be part of the Islanders’ core on defense in the future. That’s only driving Wilde to be even better.
“I think they know what my skill sets are and they try to use that,” Wilde said. “The power play is kind of my bread and butter. I feel good and the coaches have been helpful. They tell me to focus on defense and let the offense take care of itself.”
Although the sample size of two games is small, coach Brent Thompson has liked what he’s seen from the 19-year old defenseman.
“I thought he took a step in the right direction from his first game on the road,” Thompson said. “He looked more assertive with the puck.”
Wilde is a right-handed defenseman who has the ability to jump in on plays offensively and has some offensive flair to his game. In terms of comparisons to other guys who have come through the system, Thompson believes it’s hard to name someone who plays an identical game.
“I think each guy individually has their own skillset. For him, it’s his hands and his poise,” Thompson said. “I think he’s extremely confident with the puck. He’s got a good, quick shot that can get through. Obviously, he has a bright future within the organization.”
Photo Courtesy: Greg Vasil/Bridgeport Sound Tigers