New York Islanders system flush with defensive talent

By Christian Litscher

Brock Nelson - New York Islanders

Photo: Forward Brock Nelson is one of many prospects who have played some NHL games for the Islanders this season. Nelson was selected 30th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

The New York Islanders are starting to reap the rewards of high drafting and solid player development. After years of finishing at the bottom of the standings, the organization has developed a core of young talent who led them to the playoffs in 2013. More help is still on the way too, as the Islanders have quality prospects at every position.

Left Wing

The Islanders have focused mainly on defense and center in recent drafts leading to a shallow pool at left wing. They do have some quality prospects at the position though.

Taylor Cammarata was the Islanders third pick in last summer's draft after tearing apart the USHL. The 18-year-old is an offensive dynamo who has the skillset to be a first round pick, but his size raised concerns that made him fall to the third round. At only 5'7, size is a huge obstacle for the young forward. He has not let it hold him back however, and has had success at every level he has played at. Cammarata is a project forward who will need to add muscle to his frame to survive the rigors of professional hockey.

A fifth round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, John Persson is in his second season in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The 21-year-old has solid size and strength that allows him to out-muscle opponents. He plays a grinder's game and contributes both offensively and defensively. The big winger will need some more years to develop, but may find a role for himself as a bottom-six forward.

After going undrafted, Mike Halmo received a contract from the Islander's after a solid final OHL season in Owen Sound that saw him put up 85 points in 66 games. He is a type of player who teams love to have and hate to play against. The 22-year-old is a heavy hitter and plays tough. He is a bit of an agitator and provides energy to the team. He seems to improve offensively every year and it off to a good start in Bridgeport this year with 17 points in 21 games. Halmo will continue to develop in the AHL, but has a chance to carve out a role as an energy player in the NHL.

Center

The Islanders have some quality centers in their prospect pool. It starts with Ryan Strome, who is among the scoring leaders in the AHL so far this season. With his skillset, it should not long before he gets a chance with the Islanders. He projects to be a high-end offensive talent who can score at any moment and break a game wide open. Whether Strome sees time with Tavares or anchors the 2nd line remains to be seen, but either way, he will add new dimension to the Islander's offense.

Brock Nelson is starting to make a name for himself in the NHL. He competes hard and plays both ends of the rink well. The 22-year-old is big and skilled, and with continued work on his skating, should develop into a talented top-six forward. Nelson has made the transition to wing for the Islanders, although his future may still be at center.

Anders Lee has been a pleasant surprise this year. Coming out of college, Lee was expected to serve a bottom-six role for the Sound Tigers. He has however been extremely productive offensively, and currently has eight goals and 11 assists through 22 AHL games. With continued development, Lee will make a good middle of the lineup forward who can contribute at both ends of the ice.

Like Nelson and Lee, Johan Sundstrom is a strong two-way forward with size. The big Swede has a good build and plays a power forward game. He is not a flashy, but plays an effective game at both ends of the ice. He has posted 13 points in 22 games this year so far this year. Sundstrom has the talent to be a good bottom-six forward but may have to shift to wing with the Islander's depth at center in the system.

Viktor Crus Rydberg has been a solid contributor for the Plymouth Whalers this season posting 23 points in 27 games. The 18-year-old is an offensive player who is still working on rounding out his game. He has very high offensive creativity, which allows him to be a constant threat offensively. He will continue to be one of the go to offensive players for the Plymouth Whalers over the next two seasons.

Jason Clark has bounced between Bridgeport and Stockton of the ECHL so far this season. Clark is most effective when he is using his size and playing a physical game. Likely a career minor-leaguer, Clark will probably spend the length of the 2013-14 season playing between the ECHL and AHL.

After a solid OHL career, Alan Quine has made a smooth transition to professional hockey this season playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Initially selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2011 NHL Draft, Quine was not offered a contract, re-entered the draft, and was selected in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Islanders. The 20-year-old is a strong skater who plays solid in his in zone. He has the potential to be an offensive contributor in the NHL, but needs to bulk up to get there.

Joey Diamond signed an entry-level contract with the Islanders this past spring. Somewhat of a late-bloomer, Diamond took a long path to professional hockey. He plays a scrappy style and provides energy to the team. At 24 years old, Diamond is older than most prospects, but may have an NHL future in a fourth line role.

Right Wing

With only one pick in the last five drafts used on a right winger, the Islanders are shallow at this position. Kirill Kabanov leads the way. After a strong junior career, Kabanov is making a name for himself as a professional. The once highly touted prospect is back with Bridgeport after a brief stint in the ECHL this year. The 21-year-old has been fighting to get into the lineup this year, seeing only eight games in the AHL.

Kirill Petrov is a strong offensive talent who has good size at 6'3. Petrov skates well and is best in scoring areas around the net. Petrov is a creative player and is a natural scorer. It seems unlikely that Petrov will make the move across the pond.

Defensemen

With so much young forward talent, the Islanders have focused on defense in their recent drafts. The results are showing as the Islanders have assembled a deep pool of defenseman that can be considered the strength of their system.

Leading the way is Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Griffin Reinhart. He is in his final season in the WHL, and should be a lock to make the Canadian World Junior team. With his size and reach, Reinhart has a realistic chance to make the Islanders next fall. The 19-year-old will be a key cog for the Islanders in the future.

Matt Donovan made the Islanders out of training camp and appeared in 22 games before eventually being re-assigned to the AHL. Donovan is a young offensive talent who adds much needed puck-moving ability to the Islander's defense. With his skating skills and offensive instincts, it will not be long before the 23-year-old is putting up big numbers from the backend.

The Islanders first pick from the 2013 NHL Draft, Ryan Pulock is progressing nicely and is currently playing at a point-per-game pace with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. Pulock is in his fourth junior season and is now serving as captain of the team. The 19-year-old has a cannon from the point that can make any powerplay deadly.

Now in his third season in the SM-liiga, Ville Pokka shown solid growth in his all-around game. His offensive abilities have been on display, with 12 points in 29 games this season. He is a very poised defenseman and plays a solid game in his own zone. Playing against men already will be very beneficial for Pokka as he makes the transition to North America next season.

In his final season of junior hockey, Adam Pelech anchors the Erie Otters defense. Although his offensive pace is slightly down from last year, Pelech remains a strong defensive defenseman who can control the pace of the game and make a good first pass. He also possesses a high hockey IQ that allows him to make good decisions on the ice. The 19-year-old will likely start next season in the AHL as the Islanders have a plethora of young defenseman in the system ahead of him. He has the talent to develop into a reliable middle pairing defenseman for the Islanders.

Like Donovan, Aaron Ness got a chance with the big club this year. Although undersized, the 23-year-old makes up for it with his skating and hockey IQ. Ness has put up good numbers in Bridgeport and added a goal and assist in 12 games for Islanders this year. He projects as a depth defenseman who is capable of filling a variety of different roles.

Another defenseman who has seen some NHL time this season is Calvin de Haan. The 22-year-old defenseman has had trouble with injuries and missed a lot of crucial development time over the past two years. He is finally healthy however, and has been solid to start the 2013-14 season. De Haan is a great skater and moves the puck well. He best attribute may be his hockey IQ and decision making. The biggest thing for De Haan is to stay healthy this year and get his development back on track. If he can do that, he should be in the mix for a roster spot in New York next season.

The 2013-14 season has been one of adjustment for Scott Mayfield. Making the transition to professional hockey, Mayfield has had an up and down season thus far. Given his gritty, two-way style of play, the 21-year-old may take a little longer than some of his peers to reach his potential. Nonetheless, he possesses the size, skating, and disposition to be an effective shutdown defenseman.

Like Mayfield, Andrey Pedan has made the transition to professional hockey this year playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. With five points in nine games so far this season, Pedan has fared very well. He has good size and is not afraid to use it. He competes hard and stands up for his teammates. With his size, offensive skills, and toughness, Pedan should be an NHL regular with more seasoning.

The Islanders took Kyle Burroughs in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Burroughs led the Regina Pats in scoring from the back-end last season and continues to do so this season. The 18-year-old has the ability to quarterback the powerplay and his defensive game is rounding out nicely. Burroughs will likely play next season in Regina before making the transition to the pros.

Robbie Russo continues to hone his game at the University of Notre Dame. Still very raw, Russo is an all-around solid defenseman. He moves the puck well, plays a calm and poised game, and always seems to be in control. Russo still needs to continue to improve in all aspects to have success at the next level however. He will finish this season and likely play next year at Notre Dame before making the transition to the pros.

Marc Cantin has been a reliable defenseman so far this season for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Cantin is a tough, defensively sound player who often matches up against the other team's top players. He will likely play out this season with Bridgeport.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Jesse Graham has been solid for the Niagara Ice Dogs. Graham is an elite skater and is considered one of the best in the OHL in that aspect. He logs heavy minutes and gets the job done. The 19-year-old is solid offensively and makes good decisions with the puck. He was recently traded to the Saginaw Spirit, where will have an opportunity to compete for a stronger club.

Another one of the defenseman taken in the 2012 draft, Doyle Somerby has played this year for Boston University. Somerby is a project player who recently made the transition to defense. He has great size at 6'5 and has good skills to match it. Still adjusting to his new role, Somerby will take some time to develop, but has the talent to turn into a solid player down the road.

At 6'6, Loic Leduc is a towering defenseman. The 19-year-old plays a shutdown role for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. Not very offensively talented, Ludic needs to play a simple game to be effective. He will have to continue to improve his game to earn a contract from the Islanders.

The last of seven defender's chosen in the 2012 draft, Jake Bischoff has played this season at the University of Minnesota. He has been solid this season with three goals and four points in eight games. Bischoff is project who will have all four years at Minnesota to develop.

Goaltenders

The Islanders have some very intriguing prospects in goal. Although they have no blue chip prospect, they have many players who have a chance to develop into NHL starters.

When starter Evgeni Nabokov went down in mid-November with a strained groin, the door was opened for Kevin Poulin to take the starting reins. A generally calm presence in net, Poulin uses great positioning to make most of his saves. He has a 3.24 goals against average, which is not great, but he has not received much defensive support. Poulin has the tools to develop into a mid-to-low tier staring goaltending in the NHL.

Anders Nilsson is a very talented prospect with lots of potential. Although his numbers are down from last year, the giant 6'5 Swede still has plenty of time to put it together. His rare combination of size and athletic ability make him a particularly intriguing prospect. Nilsson, along with Poulin, represent the future of the Islanders in net.

The Islanders used the third round pick they received in the Nino Niederreiter (MIN) trade to select goaltender Eamon McAdam. He is a positional goalie who is good down low. He has quick feet and is a good character guy. He could prove to be a high reward pick although his numbers have not been great at Penn State. McAdam will have plenty of time to develop though and will likely spend all four years at Penn State.

Mikko Koskinen is a giant in net at 6'7. He uses his large frame to take away the net and is good in the butterfly. Koskinen is very positionally sound and anticipates the play well. After spending the last two seasons in the SM-liiga, he has been spectacular so far this season playing for Novosibirsk Siber in the KHL. He has put up an unreal .941 save percentage and a 1.71 goals against average in 26 games so far this season. The 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft has a bright future in goal.

With their fourth round pick in last summer's draft, the Islanders went with Stephon Williams from Minnesota State-Mankato. The 20-year-old has struggled this season, with a 3-4 record, a 3.47 goals against average, and a .868 save percentage. He still has plenty of time to develop in the NCAA however, so his current struggles should not be too concerning.

Article was written by Christian Litscher.

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