The 2008-09 Sound Tigers had an impressive regular season, finishing second in the East, but fell to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first round of the AHL playoffs. With few departures and an influx of new talent, the Sound Tigers appear poised to build upon their success last season.
The forward corps suffered significant losses in the offseason as four of the team’s top six scorers will not return. Three key contributors – leading scorer Mike Iggulden, Kurtis McLean, and Jeremy Colliton – signed contracts to play for European teams. Two more forwards – second leading scorer Ben Walter and Rob Hennigar – were shipped away in trades. Enforcer Mitch Fritz was not re-signed.
To fill the void, the Islanders signed Matt Moulson, Greg Moore, Greg Maudlin, and Jeremy Reich, all proven AHL scorers with NHL experience. Islanders draft picks Robin Figren, Justin DiBenedetto, and Matt Martin also figure to be key additions to the 2009-10 Sound Tigers. Figren, 21, hopes to rebound after a sub-par season in Sweden. Martin, 20, brings a strong OHL resume to Bridgeport while DiBenedetto looks to build upon a stellar 2008-09 in which he excelled after the departure of former linemate Steven Stamkos. Tony Romano, acquired in the Walter trade, will also join the team. Joel Rechlicz, who spent last year with the ECHL Utah Grizzlies and 17 games with the Islanders but only four with the Sound Tigers, will replace departed brawler Fritz.
Trevor Smith and Jesse Joensuu were among the top-six scorers last season and have a shot at cracking the NHL roster. Odds are both will be with Bridgeport to start the season, but they will be among the first players called upon should injury strike among the Islanders’ wingers. Sean Bentiviglio, Tyler Haskins, Tomas Marcinko, Pascal Morency, Micheal Haley, and Bobby Hughes will compete for the remaining forward spots.
Although the offseason departures represent some of the most significant contributors in 2008-09, the new arrivals boast a bevy of talent and the potential to exceed the production of Iggulden, Walter, McLean, and Colliton.
The Sound Tigers defense remains largely intact. Andy McDonald has a chance to make the Islanders, but is more likely to return to Bridgeport to anchor the defense. He will be among the first call-ups if the Islanders require reinforcements on the blue line. Mark Wotton, a stalwart for the Sound Tigers the last three years, will be back as well. Dustin Kohn also returns. Jack Hillen earned a promotion to the Islanders last year and is likely to stay there.
Chris Lee, Jamie Fraser, and Joe Callahan have all moved on. All three logged significant playing time and made substantial contributions last year. Nonetheless, with McDonald, Wotton, and Kohn, the Sound Tigers still have a strong defensive core. The arrival of smooth-skating offensive defenseman Mark Katic will provide the Sound Tigers with a puck-moving defenseman much in the mold of Hillen. AHL veterans Mark Flood and Brett Westgarth signed as a free agents and will fill the final regular spots on defense.
The Sound Tigers will have something of a logjam at goaltender. Peter Mannino logged the most minutes last year, but he signed with Atlanta in the offseason. Nathan Lawson was a pleasant surprise last season. He will be joined by 2009 second-round pick Mikko Koskinen and former Philadelphia Phantoms goalie Scott Munroe. With Lawson’s impressive showing last season, Koskinen’s pro experience in Europe, and Munroe’s strong AHL track record, it is far from clear how the goaltending minutes will be divided. But any way it is done should be solid.
Prospects training camp summary
Defensemen Travis Hamonic, Jyri Niemi, Calvin de Haan, and Anton Klementyev attended Islanders training camp in Saskatoon. Hamonic was among the first cuts. He returned to the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors and was named co-captain for 2009-10. Niemi was very comfortable in training camp, playing in the same arena he frequents as a member of the Saskatoon Blades. Spurgeon and Kelmentyev remain in camp. Most importantly, Calvin de Haan is still in camp and playing well. He logged over 20 minutes of ice time and scored an impressive goal in a 3-2 loss to Edmonton. De Haan could see up to nine games with the Islanders before being sent back to the Oshawa Generals.
Fourth-round draft choice Casey Cizikas was with the Islanders for the first few days of training camp, but was one of the first two players cut. He rejoined his OHL team and promptly scored a goal in the first game of the season. Former fifth round pick Kevin Poulin attended Islanders training camp and worked himself into two preseason games, but was reassigned to the Victoriaville Tigers of the QMJHL.