Islanders make Mark Streit the NHL’s first Swiss-born captain

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Going into the 2010-11 season, Mark Streit ranked as a significantly underrated offensive defensemen and arguably the top reason why the New York Islanders might have been feeling optimistic. His prodigious skills and hockey IQ were on display during the 2010 Olympics, when he stood out alongside goalie Jonas Hiller on an over-matched Swiss squad that gave the U.S. and Canadian teams some serious headaches.

Of course, things fell apart when a preseason shoulder injury ended that 10-11 campaign. Combined with Kyle Okposo being sidelined for a big chunk of the season, it seemed like the Isles were doomed from the start.

Heading into this summer, the Islanders faced a touch decision: who should become the team’s next captain now that Doug Weight retired? Some people argued for 2009 first overall pick John Tavares while others championed Okposo. Yet if the Islanders decided to break with the recent trends of naming a young face of the franchise and instead opt for a veteran, then Streit would be the obvious choice.

Arthur Staples reports that the Islanders decided to go with Streit, which makes him the NHL’s first Swiss-born player to become a captain. The Islanders confirmed the news moments ago.

After scoring a career-high 62 points in his last season with the Montreal Canadiens in 07-08, many believed that the Islanders might get burned by signing Streit after a breakout year. While Streit hasn’t matched that lofty point total in Long Island, he was outstanding in his two seasons with the Islanders, scoring 56 points in 08-09 and 49 in 09-10. The 33-year-old blueliner fought his way to the NHL, premiering with the Habs during the 05-06 season at age 28.

In my opinion, the Islanders really couldn’t go wrong with either Streit, Okposo or Tavares. It might indeed be wiser to go with a veteran presence, especially since the team can transition the “C” to Okposo or Tavares once Streit retires, leaves for a different squad or fades from relevance. Streit only has two years remaining on his current deal, so it’s possible that the team might move on to a new leader after the 2012-13 season.

Either way, it’s a great reward for a player who paid his dues. The Islanders are among a handful of “wildcard” teams who could be playoff contenders as easily as they could have lousy seasons, so the onus will be on Streit & Co. to get the job done.