By Travis Betts
Islanders defenseman Aaron Ness has an important summer ahead of him.
After earning nine games with the Islanders last year as a rookie, the 22-year-old is vying for a full-time spot on the team. He’ll try to impress the Islanders coaches at every opportunity, starting with Prospect Camp this week. Ness scored 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 69 games with AHL Bridgeport last season, but says the brief experience of playing in the NHL has motivated him all summer.
“I played a few games up (with the Islanders) and got a little taste for it,” Ness said. “That taste has helped this summer, pushing me to get bigger and stronger and just working on little things in my game hopefully to take the next step.”
Ness made the most of his time with the Islanders last season, soaking in the experiences and learning as much as possible.
“You get a taste for the speed and the strength,” Ness said. “The guys are incredible hockey players; the most talented players in the world. To learn how to defend against them, or to learn what you have to do to create offense as well, it was a good learning experience.”
With potentially two spots up for grabs on the Islanders blue line next season, players with NHL experience like Ness may have a slight built-in advantage. But because the club drafted seven defensemen in the 2012 NHL Draft, and acquired veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky via trade from Anaheim, competition for a full-time spot just got a lot stiffer.
As one of the players on the coaches’ radar, Ness knows the importance of having a good summer before the start of Training Camp in September, especially because the free-agent period could fill another spot on the blueline.
“This offseason is huge,” Ness said. “Any time you come to a camp like this, you want to see where you’re at. I think any chance you can get to get back on the ice and skate with some good hockey players, it’s a lot of fun.”
The defenseman has come a long way since the Islanders selected him in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft. He played 111 games from 2008-2011 at the University of Minnesota before being called up to play 13 games with Bridgeport at the end of the 2010-11 season. The 2011-12 campaign was the Roseau, MN native’s first full season in the professional ranks, something he said was crucial toward his development.
“I think for me, it was just getting a feel for the 80-game season,” Ness said. “I wasn’t used to that in college. It’s a different game. It’s more of a skill game.”
With three mini-camps under his belt already, Ness is a veteran presence in an inexperienced locker room this week. He’s confident that the experience he has gained since Draft Day four years ago has prepared him for this opportunity.
“It’s been a good four years for me development-wise. I feel more skilled and more comfortable out there, and more comfortable with the game itself.”