An Islander forward last night, making his NHL debut, had an immediate impact with each shift he took in the Islanders first win in the past 8 games. Could it have been a case of first-time nerves and adrenaline working it's magic to help the youngster provide the spark this team needs? Possibly. But what we might also be seeing is the toughness and grit this team has lacked all season long, and if his game stays at the same level of intensity that it was played at last night, he may stick around for a while.
Matt Martin, 20 years old, was drafted by the Islanders in the 5th round (148th overall) in the 2008 NHL entry draft. You may remember him holding out for a bit of a contract dispute over the summer, looking for his first professional contract since he had a great year with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2009. That year he put up 65 points (35 goals and 30 assists) in 61 games played. He eventually got the deal he wanted, thus putting extra weight on his shoulders. Now not only did he have to prove himself as an NHL player, but he had to prove that he was worth the extra time, cash and deal that he got himself.
So far this season he has played 59 games in Bridgeport, totaling 9 goals and 9 assists for 18 points to go along with his 91 penalty minutes. He's here to hit, tally a few goals, make a few plays and drop the gloves to provide energy for his hockey team. Energy is exactly what he provided last night.
In his first NHL game, Martin registered two assists and a few good clean hits that knocked a few Predators right on their asses; something that Gordon has wanted to see from his club for some time now. He was also a +2 last night and responsible for the exciting game tying goal that Mark Streit buried with just a few tenths over 11 seconds left in the third period.
Putting Martin out in the final minute with the goalie pulled was a sign that Gordon was clearly happy with Martin's play. He absorbed a hit in the final seconds along the boards and was able to pull the puck loose before sending it over to the wide open man at the point to roof it top-shelf. Leading up to this decision by the coach were a few plays in which Martin was stirring up the opposition by standing in the Predators' crease, getting in Pekka Rinne's face and dishing a few pokes and shoves to his defenseman.
Granted, this is only one game played by the young forward who still has lots to prove if he intends on earning a spot with the Islanders for the rest of the season. Being that not many other players on this team like to use their bodies as weapons on the ice, I'd say he already has one foot in the door over a few others.
Tonight he will be introduced to Sidney Crosby for the first time and will have to deal with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and possibly Eric Godard. Depending on the opponent, (because I think Godard may be a little too much too soon for the kid), I am hoping to see Martin get into his first NHL fight to see how he can handle himself. Tonight might be the night with an Atlantic Division match-up at hand.
Islanders vs. Penguins at 7:30 PM.
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