Islanders Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Ryan MacLeod

The Islanders had two players graduate off their Top 20 list in Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim, while Kyle Okposo continues to hold the No. 1 spot.  This spring version includes 15 forwards, four defensemen and just one goaltender.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Kyle Okposo, RW, 19 
2. Blake Comeau, RW, 22  
3. Robin Figren, LW, 19 
4. Rhett Rakhshani, RW, 20 
5. Steve Regier, LW, 23
6. Trevor Smith, LW, 23 
7. Ben Walter, C, 23 
8. Jeremy Colliton, C 
9. Dustin Kohn, D, 21
10. Frans Nielsen, C, 23 
11. Sean Bentivoglio, F, 22
12. Jesse Joensuu, W, 20
13. Doug Rogers, C, 20
14. Tomas Marcinko, C, 19
15. Shea Guthrie, W, 20
16. Jamie Fraser, D, 22 
17. Andrew MacDonald, D, 21
18. Maxim Gratchev LW, 19
19. Jase Weslosky, G, 19
20. Mark Katic, D, 18

1. (1) Kyle Okposo RW, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall, 2006

Okposo is one of the top prospects in all of hockey and recently made his NHL debut.  He recorded his first career goal in just his second career game on Mar. 21, scoring the game winner on the power play. Okposo started the season with the University of Minnesota, leaving after just 18 games and joining the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL. In 29 games there, the 6’0, 200-pound winger recorded eight goals and 16 assists with a +3 rating.

Okposo combines strength with skill, which draws a lot of comparisons to the style of play exhibited by Jarome Iginla. Okposo should finish out the season with the Islanders and will be a front-runner for a roster spot next year.

2. (4) Blake Comeau RW, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2004

Comeau is showing good promise after finding a role with the big club this year, getting called up from Bridgeport in December. In 44 games with the Islanders he’s collected seven goals and six assists with a +1 and is seeing time on the power play.

Comeau is a feisty player with a wide frame at 6’1, 205 lbs and will work hard for puck possession. He’s been told by Islanders staff to start shooting the puck more often. There’s some offensive ability that is not being expressed. Along with Okposo, there’s a good chance he will win a full-time job in the NHL at training camp next year.

3. (NR) Robin Figren LW, 20   

Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2006

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Figren played just his second year on North American ice this season and put up decent numbers with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL.  A broken wrist ended his season in January, but in the 35 games he played he was -4 with 18 goals and 13 assists. 

The highlight of his year was skating for the Swedish team that won a silver medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.  He was first on his team in points and 10th in the tournament, collecting five goals and two assists in six games.

At 5’10, 176 lbs, he’s a flashy forward with great skating. Figren is expected to sign with the Islanders this summer and will likely end up playing for their farm club in the fall.

4. (5) Rhett Rakhshani RW, 20   

Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall, 2006

Rakhshani’s offensive production plateaued this year in his sophomore season with University of Denver, but his 14 goals and 13 assists in 35 games were still good enough to finish third in team scoring. 

He is a small forward, 5’10, 180 lbs, but he has great speed, key for smaller players to succeed at the NHL level. He spent time this season on a line with Maple Leafs draft pick Tyler Ruegsegger and super-freshman Tyler Bozak.

5. (11) Steve Regier, LW, 23   

Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall, 2004

Regier is showing good offensive promise with the farm club this year.  In 54 games with the Sound Tigers he’s found the back of the net 19 times and collected 22 assists. However, an inability to translate his offensive talents into NHL production is a cause for concern, as he hasn’t managed a single point in 16 games with the Islanders over the last three years.

The 6’5, 205-pound forward has the physical presence to score a lot of goals, but he needs to prove he can do that in the NHL. Already 23 years old, time is not on his side, but a strong season with the Tigers this year at least shows the forward is improving his game.

6. (13) Trevor Smith, C, 23   

Acquired: Signed as a free agent by the Islanders on April 1st, 2007

After a slow start and a stint in the ECHL, this undrafted free agent is starting to show the scoring touch that compelled the Islanders to pull him out of college hockey after his sophomore season with the University of New Hampshire. In 43 games with Bridgeport this year, he’s compiled 14 goals and 14 assists, but 26 of his 28 points have come in the last 26 games. 

The 6’1, 190-pound center has a shoot-first mentality and knows where to find holes in the opposing teams’ defensive coverage, which will help make up for his average skating abilities.

7. (NR) Ben Walter C, 23

Acquired: (Boston) 5th round, 160th overall, 2004 – traded to Islanders on Sept. 11th, 2007

Walter has had to back-to-back strong years in the AHL.  In 56 games with Bridgeport this year he put home 16 goals and added 32 assists, showing his style as a pass-first centerman.  Known for a strong work ethic, he possesses average size, 6’0, 185 lbs, but above-average play along the boards.

Walter has played a few games as the Islanders fourth-line center this year, however, he’s managed only one point in 18 career NHL games and that will remain a red flag until he can prove he can score at the next level.

8. (8) Jeremy Colliton RW, 23

Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2003

Colliton’s production in the AHL has dropped for the second straight year since his 2005-06 rookie season in which he averaged almost a point per game.  In 59 games with Bridgeport this season he’s managed only eight goals and 10 assists, while his -11 is tied for worst on the team.

Knocked in the past for not showing toughness, the 6’2, 195-pound center dropped the gloves twice this year, including a tussle with Hartford’s Michael Sauer.

Colliton is a useful penalty killer and saw time on the Islanders fourth line this season, with zero points, a -1 and two penalty minutes in 11 games.

9. (7) Dustin Kohn D, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2005

Kohn has followed up a strong, four-year junior career in the WHL, by making a fine impression during his rookie season with Bridgeport. However, the fact that he is the highest rated defender on this team’s list of prospects isn’t saying too much.  In 50 games, he’s potted two goals and seven assists, but most notably is +5 on a team that is -10 for the year.  

Of course, his game is not without its faults as he’s been dogged by criticism of his intensity and level of commitment throughout his career.  Known for his good shot and great skating in his junior days, Kohn will need to prove he’s capable of making offensive contributions in pro hockey.

10. (3) Frans Nielsen C, 23

Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2002

Nielsen drops all the way from No. 3 down to the 10th spot and it’s mostly because he’s not been able to prove he can score in the NHL.  Nielsen is still looked at as a player with good playmaking potential, but after 27 career NHL games and only four points, it becomes questionable.  It can still go either way with this smart center, but at age 23, it seems less likely that he’ll reach his potential.

His production was solid with Bridgeport before being called up this year.  In 48 games with the Sound Tigers, the 6’0, 176-pounder tallied 10 goals and 28 assists.  He’s currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and hasn’t played a game since Feb 28.  He has one goal and one assist with the Islanders this season.

11. (12) Sean Bentivoglio F, 22

Acquired: Signed as a free agent by the Islanders on May 20th, 2007

In his first full year in the AHL, Bentivoglio is showing a relentless work ethic and a deft touch with the puck.  There is no question that he likes to use his quickness to set up for the pass, as this undrafted forward has the third highest assist total for Bridgeport (21), but has taken 100 fewer shots than the team leader in that category, resulting in only nine goals over 61 games.

After an illustrious college career with Niagara University, Bentivoglio is starting to prove he can be a useful player in the pro game.  While it’s not likely the 5’11, 185-pound forward will score at a high pace in the NHL, he could fit into a role as an energy player with the ability to set up his linemates for an occasional goal.

12. (17) Jesse Joensuu W, 20

Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2006

Joensuu’s future with the Islanders franchise has finally been decided.  After playing his entire career in Finland he signed a three-year contract with New York in March and will make his debut on North American ice next season.  He is a strong, powerful forward, 6’4, 208 lbs and is having the best season of his career.  In 56 games with Assat Pori, he grabbed 17 goals and 18 assists to go along with 89 penalty minutes.  He’s now practicing with Bridgeport.

Joensuu is relentless in the corners and has worked hard to improve his skating.  The smaller ice surface should be a bonus for his style of play.

13. (16) Doug Rogers C, 20

Acquired: 4th round, 119th overall, 2006

A great sophomore performance coupled with another year playing under Harvard University Head Coach Ted Donato and Rogers is really starting to look like a strong offensive prospect.  In 34 games as the team’s top line center he tallied 13 goals, 19 assists and lead the Crimson with a +13 rating. Donato has said the 6’1, 195-pounder has really turned into a go-to guy in the last two years. 

Rogers has improved defensively and is one of the best faceoff men in his conference.  He is strong on the puck and has great on-ice vision.

14. (14) Tomas Marcinko C, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 115th overall, 2006

Another strong offensive performance as the Barrie Colts captain helped Marcinko maintain his spot in the Islanders top 20.  In 48 regular season games, he scored 19 times, along with 26 assists and a -5.  Through three playoff games he has two goals and one assist with a +2.

Marcinko has great hands and if he develops properly could be a strong offensive threat, however, he is definitely in a boom or bust situation.  He will need to improve his skating and strength on the puck to be truly effective.

15. (15) Shea Guthrie RW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 76th overall, 2005

Guthrie’s numbers were lower than expected in his junior year with Clarkson University, even below the 26 points he recorded in his rookie season two years ago.  In 36 games he picked up eight goals and 13 assists, including a team-high four game winners.  Despite a disappointing year statistically, he was still a key player for Clarkson as they finished the regular season with the best record in the ECAC. He spent most of the season on a line with centerman Chris D’Alvise. Guthrie had zero points in a recent three-game playoff series loss to Colgate University.  The 6’0, 204-pound winger has above-average skating and a strong shot.  There’s no reason to think he won’t be back at Clarkson next year.

16. (NR) Jamie Fraser D, 22

Acquired: Signed as a free agent by the Islanders on December 30th, 2006

Another undrafted free agent, Fraser is making his debut in New York’s top 20 after a second solid season with the Sound Tigers.  In 58 games this year, the 6’0, 200-pound rearguard is -11 with six goals and 12 assists, which is good enough to lead the team’s defense core in scoring. 

Next year will be the last of his entry-level deal, so he’ll need to step it up to stay in the mix.

17. (10) Andrew MacDonald D, 21

Acquired: 6th round, 160th overall, 2006

MacDonald started the year in Bridgeport, but by the time December rolled around he’d been demoted to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL where he spent the next few months toiling for a call-up.  In 21 games with Bridgeport, he’s managed just two goals and three assists with a +1, while he’s fared a little better in Utah, collecting one goal, 11 assists and +2 over 37 games.

At 6’0, 188 lbs, he has average size and slow development is causing his stock to fall.  He has a strong first pass out of his own zone and above-average offensive skills, at least at the minor-pro level.

18. (18) Maxim Gratchev LW, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 106th overall, 2007

Injuries have plagued this talented winger throughout his career and this season was no exception.  Limited to just 39 games with the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL, his inability to stay healthy is concerning.  After recording 77 points in 70 games last season, he mustered only nine goals and 20 assists this time around.

Gratchev, 5’11, 198 lbs, has excellent puckhandling skills and knows how to dangle.  With a bit of luck and a few healthy seasons, he might get a chance to show he can be a productive forward.

19. (NR) Jase Weslosky G, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 108th overall, 2006

In his sophomore season and first year as the starter for St Cloud University, Weslosky put together solid numbers.  In 33 games he compiled a record of 16-12-2 with three shutouts, a 2.12 GAA and .931 save percentage.  Averaging 26 saves per game, the young keeper had the second best goals against average in the conference.

His season wasn’t without controversy.  During a stretch in December he lost five consecutive games, which led to him losing the starting job to freshman Dan Dunn during the month of January, before reclaiming the top spot in early February.  He still has a long road ahead of him, but is showing good promise at the college level.

20. (16) Mark Katic D, 18

Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2007

A shoulder injury cut down on development time for the team’s youngest prospect.  In 45 games with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, he managed 5 goals, 26 assists and an impressive +11.

Known for his wheels, the 5’11, 185-pounder is built from the mold of a post-lockout blueliner.  He relies on speed and a fast accurate pass.  He’ll be back with the Sting next year.