Islanders 2009-10 AHL/ECHL prospects update

By Sean Kass

The 2009-10 Bridgeport Sound Tigers are an up and down, hot and cold sort of team. They have a healthy serving of talent, but cannot seem to put it together consistently. Despite a combined minus-54 rating, they sit near .500 and are in playoff contention.
 
As far as prospect development, the news is mostly discouraging. There have been more underwhelming performances than impressive ones. 

Mikko Koskinen, G, 21

Five games into the season, Koskinen’s AHL career was off to a good start. Koskinen had started two games, winning one in a shootout, and posted a 2.45 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. His Sound Tigers were 4-1-0. But it was too good to last. Koskinen tore his hip labrum and had to undergo surgery that has sidelined him ever since. Prior to the injury, coach Jack Capuano seemed to be employing an even three-man rotation with Scott Munroe, Nathan Lawson, and Koskinen. Koskinen is slated to return in a few weeks, but it is not certain he will be in for a third of the work when he does. Munroe and Lawson have been playing well in his absence and Capuano may be reluctant to turn to Koskinen fresh off his injury. 

Jesse Joensuu, LW, 22

Early in the season, Joensuu was playing on the team’s second line with DiBenedetto and center Tony Romano. After spending some time on the third line, Joensuu has been reinstated on the second line, which now includes Greg Maudlin, the team’s leading goal scorer, and DiBenedetto. The switch has paid dividends for the team and Joensuu, who has developed an obvious on-ice chemistry with Maudlin. Joensuu has scored four goals and four assists in his past 10 contests and is now one of the few players on the team with a positive plus/minus rating. Joensuu’s recent production has returned his scoring totals to respectable territory. He now has five goals and 11 assists in 28 games, which is good enough for the third-most points on the team and a share of the team lead in assists. His production is lower than expected after he scored 20 goals and 19 assists in 70 games last season, but at least he appears to be regaining his stride. 

Trevor Smith, C, 24
     
Smith started the season well, using his quick reflexes to pounce on rebounds and pot three goals in his first seven games while playing on the top line with Greg Moore and Maudlin. In an effort to boost secondary scoring, Capuano has shifted the lines since then, and it’s now Sean Bentivoglio, Moore and Smith. As one of the team’s most gifted forwards and a member of the top line, Smith sees substantial time on the power-play unit. Smith’s greatest asset is his ability to finish around the net and the majority of his goals this season have come off rebounds. His scoring pace has slowed since his torrid start, but he is tied for the team lead with nine goals and fifth on the team with 15 points through 29 games. Smith’s output is down from last year though, when he had 62 points in 76 games. He will need to do more to earn a spot in the NHL.

Robin Figren, LW, 21
   
It has been a disastrous season for the rookie Figren. He looks outclassed and out of place in the AHL, even coming from the Swedish Elite League. He has been used sparingly, mostly on the fourth line with a hodgepodge of linemates including Tomas Marcinko, Pascal Morency, Trevor Gillies, Bobby Hughes, and Joel Rechlicz. Figren has no goals and just two assists in 22 games. Part of Figren’s problem may stem from discomfort with the lack of consistency of linemates, but he cannot expect anything more until his play merits it. Barring a substantial improvement, Figren could be demoted to the ECHL until he regains his confidence.    

Justin DiBenedetto, C, 21

DiBenedetto has secured a spot on the second line with Maudlin and Joensuu as a 21-year-old rookie. He has scored five goals and five assists in 28 games and currently leads the team in shots with 102, well ahead of second place Smith’s 82. If DiBenedetto keeps shooting, more goals are sure to come.

Mark Katic, D, 21

Katic has spent most of the season paired with Brett Westgarth, but has also spent time playing with Mark Wotton and Jon Gleed. Katic’s one goal and eight assists in 27 games provide cause for optimism, but his team-worst minus-7 rating offers some cause for concern. Capuano has been playing him regularly and the fact that a first-year offensive defenseman has earned a regular spot on an AHL team indicates he can handle himself in the defensive end. He will need to show more at both ends going forward, but his performance to date has been satisfactory.

Matt Martin, LW, 20

Martin’s first season with Bridgeport has been an all-around success. Martin has earned rave reviews playing mostly on the third and fourth lines with a combination of Marcinko, Michael Haley, Romano and Tyler Haskins. Martin has been playing a complete game – scoring, hitting, forechecking, backchecking, and even fighting. He has even seen short stints on the top two lines. Martin’s minus-5 rating is tied for the second worst on the team, which is surprising for a player who has been so effective. Yet the negative rating may be more a reflection of the amount of ice time he has received while playing alongside guys who do not often light the goal lamp. His five goals and six assists place him seventh in team scoring and tops among rookies. Martin was a late-round draft pick but he is doing all the right things to get himself to the NHL. 

Andrew MacDonald, D, 23

For most of the season, MacDonald has been playing with Dustin Kohn on the second defensive pairing. But do not let that fool you – MacDonald is probably the best defenseman on the Sound Tigers. Capuano likes to break up his strongest defensemen so he has Wotton, the team’s elder statesman and captain, anchor the first pairing and MacDonald the second. Macdonald started the season on a hot streak with a goal and three assists in his first four games. He currently has two goals, six assists, and a +2 rating in 21 AHL games. When the Islanders have needed a defensive reinforcement, MacDonald has been the obvious first choice. In six NHL games, he has no points and a +3 rating. MacDonald continues to impress and could eventually find himself with a full-time role in the NHL. 

Anton Klementyev, D, 19

A surprise fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, Klementyev showed enough at the Sound Tigers training camp to stick with the club rather than go the more traditional junior route. At just 19, that is a feat in and of itself. After some visa issues, he has appeared in 10 games, registered no points, and has a minus-5 rating. Earlier in the season, Klementyev had been paired with Jon Gleed, but more recently he has been playing with captain Mark Wotton. The youngster can only benefit from being on the ice with a player with Wotton’s many years of experience. He will need to continue to adjust to the North American style.

Sean Bentivoglio, LW, 24

Bentivoglio has been a major surprise so far this year. After two solid but unremarkable seasons, he registered a goal and two assists in the season opener and has continued solid production. He currently leads the team with 18 points (eight goals and 10 assists) in 29 games. After playing on the third line with Haskins and Martin early in the season, Bentivoglio was promoted to the first line and has become a fixture there along with Smith and Moore. Bentivoglio has been seeing substantial power-play time and is second on the team with three power-play goals. Bentivoglio made his way into one NHL game last season. If he strong play continues, he might find his way into a few more.  

Tomas Marcinko, C, 21

Marcinko has not brought much to the table this year. He was a mild disappointment last year in his first AHL season, but so far this year his production is worse than his prior campaign. Marcinko has just two goals and one assist in 22 games. He also has a minus-5 rating. Marcinko has been playing on the fourth line with a combination of Figren, Pascal Morency, Romano and Trevor Gillies, but has also seen time on the second line with DiBenedetto and Joensuu and the third line with Martin and Michael Haley. Marcinko’s OHL numbers were promising, but so far he has looked ordinary at best in his two seasons with the Sound Tigers.

Dustin Kohn, D, 22
     
Playing mainly on the second pairing with McDonald, Kohn has seen plenty of ice time, including power-play time. He has taken advantage with two goals and eight assists in 29 games, slightly better than his pace of four goals and 13 assists over 58 games last season. While MacDonald has been with the Islanders, Kohn has anchored the second defensive pair along with Mark Flood. Nonetheless, over the past few years, Kohn has been passed over by Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen, and MacDonald. At this point it seems unlikely Kohn will ever be a long-term member of the Islanders. 

Tony Romano, C, 21

Romano is a strong skater with fantastic moves, but has yet to use them to his advantage in the AHL. He gets pushed around and loses many battles along the boards. He is also susceptible to the poke check. His offensive numbers of one goal and one assist in 21 games are not going to turn any heads and he is also suffering from a lack of discipline, which was on display last week when he took a tripping penalty just after being stopped on a breakaway. Earlier in the season, he was given an extended opportunity to center the second line, but was subsequently removed because of a lack of production. Notably, the second line has improved markedly since the change. Recently he has been playing on the fourth line, mostly with Figren and Marcinko. Romano is a weak fit on a checking line because of his small size and needs to be on one of the top three lines to be effective. As a result, he has been assigned to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. He needs to use the time in the ECHL to improve his strength on the puck and in the corners.    
 
Joel Rechlicz, RW, 22

The Islanders lack a default team fighter and Rechlicz is the top enforcer prospect in the system. On those grounds alone, he has a future with the organization. Yet before he can assume the role, he needs to show that he can contribute in ways other than checking and fighting. That was the goal this year after “the Wrecker” had a cup of coffee with the Islanders for 17 games last year. Rechlicz has not achieved his objective, primarily because he has not played much. He made the Islanders out of training camp, but was sent down to Bridgeport so that he could see more ice time and hone his skills. It was a sensible move, considering Rechlicz hardly played in his time with the big club. Not long after his demotion, a finger injury kept him out for the month of November. As a result, he has played just 12 total games — five in the NHL and seven in the AHL. While with the Sound Tigers, he has played on the fourth line mainly with Figren and Marcinko, but also with Trevor Gillies, Pascal Morency, and Micheal Haley. As expected, Rechlicz has racked up lots of penalty minutes and no points in his seven AHL games. He has not had sufficient playing time to demonstrate improvement in his skating, passing, and stick handling. 
  
Bobby Hughes, C, 22

In early November, Hughes was arrested and arraigned on charges of sexual assault.  Shortly after the arraignment, Hughes was sent to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. Even before his assignment to Utah, Hughes was not an integral member of the Sound Tigers. He had appeared in just five of Bridgeport’s games and played mostly on the fourth line.  He did not record any points. During his time with the Grizzlies, Hughes has been playing with an assortment of players and seen some power play time. The former Carolina pick will need to tear it up to get back to the AHL. With his legal troubles hanging over him, he has just one goal and two assists in eight games with the Grizzlies.