During Islanders practice Wednesday morning at Northwell Heath Ice Center, I said to a team employee that maybe the Isles should start using the Yankees’ “Next Man Up” hashtag on social media since they are on a seven-game winning streak despite a rash of injuries to their group of forwards.
The Islanders would certainly sign on the dotted line for the same success that the Yankees had in reaching the American League Championship Series with a plethora of injuries because that would mean the Isles would be in the Eastern Conference Final this spring. The ultimate goal is a little bigger but to my point, the Islanders have been winning despite some their injury woes.
On Wednesday, the Islanders added two more names to their current injured reserve list with Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Martin joining a group that already includes Andrew Ladd, Jordan Eberle and Leo Komarov. That list also included Casey Cizikas earlier this season but he is now back in the lineup. In need of another healthy body, the Islanders recalled 21-year old forward Otto Koivula from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Koivula was watching television on Wednesday night when he got his first career callup to the NHL.
“I’m so happy to be here,” said Koivula, a fourth-round draft pick in 2016. “When I got the phone call, it was exciting. I think I’m ready for this and I was really happy to get the phone call.”
In his first full season for the Sound Tigers last season, the native of Nokia, Finland tallied 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points in 69 games. At 6’5” and 232 pounds, he brings a big body and a left-handed shot to the Islanders. Koivula also possesses a strong hockey IQ and made a quick transition to the North American game last season.
Sometimes it takes a little longer for a young player from Europe with a big frame like Koivula to adapt to playing in North America, but he has been a pleasant surprise to the Islanders.
“I think he’s got a good hockey mind,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz after practice Wednesday. “He works at his game. I think he’s a sharp guy when it comes to the game of hockey. I think he’s a sharp guy in terms of knowing where he needs to get to and help him be successful.”
During this past pre-season, Koivula played three games for the Islanders notching a goal and an assist. He’s had a taste of what it’s like to play for Trotz over the course of two training camps with the Islanders and now he’s eager to show that he’s ready for the jump to the NHL.
And he’s joining a team that is red hot having won seven games in a row.
“It’s exciting,” said Koivula. “The system is a little different than in Bridgeport but in training camp I think I did a good job. “It’s cool to see how these guys do things here so it’s nice to be here. It’s not a surprise to me that they’re getting wins.”
Koivula and the Sound Tigers have not gotten off to a good start to the 2019-20 AHL season. Bridgeport has only won one of their first nine games and Koivula himself has just two assists through six games. Koivula recent missed three games with an upper body injury but after a conversation with Sound Tigers Head Coach Brent Thompson, Trotz felt the time was right to bring Koivula up.
“I liked what I saw in the pre-season,” said Trotz. “He’s just coming back from a little bit of an injury. He’s starting to get his game back.”
During practice on Thursday, Koivula skated in a group of four former Sound Tigers including Oliver Wahlstrom, Cole Bardreau and Ross Johnston. He’ll go through another practice on Thursday and then the morning skate on Friday before if it’s determined whether or not he makes his NHL debut on Friday night when the Islanders host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Nassau Coliseum.
The call-up from the AHL could be just the thing to jump start Koivula’s season.
“It’s a fresh start for me this season,” said Koivula. “I want to show that I want to work hard here and I want to show my skill. I want to show that I’m capable of playing here and I’m ready for the NHL.”
Just like the Yankees, the Islanders have been rallying around the “next man up” philosophy early this season and it has certainly worked out. Otto Koivula could be the next player to be a part of that rallying cry.