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By Cory Wright (@WrightsWay) / New York Islanders
Tanner Fritz is sporting a sizable scar on his right forearm, the lasting result of surgery to remove a blood clot late last season.
It was a freak injury, as Fritz first noticed some pain in his hand after the Islanders-Montreal Canadiens game on March 21, his first game after being recalled from Bridgeport. He initially didn’t think much of it, but the pain persisted and after morning skate against the Blue Jackets on March 26, two fingers in his hand were going pale. X-rays didn’t show anything wrong, but an ultrasound the next day in Winnipeg revealed the clot. On March 31, the team announced Fritz had undergone surgery and would miss six-to-eight weeks.
“They had to take a vein here and put it right here in my hand,” Fritz said pointing to the scar midway up the inside of his forearm. “The clot was in the artery, so they cut it out, then they took a vein from here and put it there. That vein becomes that artery, but it takes time for that to happen. It’s pretty crazy actually.”
“I was pretty lucky and just glad they caught it when they did,” Fritz said.
Health-wise, Fritz was lucky with the quick timing. Career-wise, not so much. Fritz’s surgery cost him an extended opportunity with the Islanders, especially as Valtteri Filppula missed four weeks at the end of the season.
“It’s crazy how it happens, but it’s the game though, injuries do happen, everyone goes through it,” Fritz said. “It was obviously tough timing for myself. I’m glad they brought me back, I love the organization, I love the guys in both organizations. I’m hoping to earn a spot on the team this year and prove to them that I can be a full-time NHL player.”
Barry Trotz was a fan of Fritz last season and the 28-year-old did make the Islanders roster out of training camp last season, playing a pair of games before being loaned to Bridgeport. Fritz, who became a dad over the summer, signed a two-year deal to return to the organization and is looking to further impress the Islanders and try to make the jump to full-time NHLer.
"I thought I did well while I played those four games [before the injury]," Fritz said. "I'm here to prove that I can help them throughout the full season, so I have to earn my spot and go from there."
Fritz caught Trotz's eye in the Islanders' 3-2 OT preseason win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, laying out for four blocked shots, three hits and a healthy 2:30 SH/TOI. He also chased down a puck in the offensive zone and set up Michael Dal Colle out front for what was - at the time - the Isles best scoring chance of the night.
"I thought Tanner Fritz was a guy who was playing to be on the team," Trotz said.
“At the end of the year and I thought I did well while I played those four games,” Fritz said. “I’m here to prove that I can help them throughout the full season, so I have to earn my spot and go from there.”
With Derick Brassard joining the fold, the Islanders have some center depth, as well as prospects like Otto Koivula also pushing for spots, there’s competition for Fritz at this year’s camp. He was a point-per-game player in Bridgeport in 2017-18 and recorded 37 points in 57 games last season with the Sound Tigers, but has taken on a more defensive and PK-focused role in his stints – 42 games over two seasons – with the Islanders. That’s how he plans to separate himself.
“They are looking for a responsible player that can play at both ends of the ice and I pride myself on playing a full 200-foot game,” Fritz said. “If I do that, stick to my abilities and play to my strengths, I think they are going to see that and hopefully keep me around.”