Islanders Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Omair Taher

Top 20 at a glance

1. Calvin de Haan, D, 7.5D
2. Jesse Joensuu, LW, 6.5B
3. Travis Hamonic, D 7C
4. Kirill Petrov, RW 7.5D
5. Andrew MacDonald, 7C
6. Rob Schremp, C 7D
7. Trevor Smith, C 6.5C
8. Jason Gregoire, LW 7D
9. Rhett Rakhshani, RW 7D
10. Aaron Ness, D 7D
11. Mikko Koskinen, G 7D
12. Anders Nilsson, G 7D
13. Corey Trivino, C 7D
14. Casey Cizikas, C 7D
15. Justin DiBenedetto, C 7D
16. Brian Day, RW 6.5C
17. Matt Donovan, D 7D
18. Kevin Poulin, G 7D
19. Dustin Kohn, D 6.5C
20. Blake Kessel, D 7D

1. Calvin de Haan, D, 7.5D
Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall, 2009 NHL Draft

Injuries have put a damper on what was expected to be a promising season for de Haan. After missing the last few days of Islanders training camp with a groin strain, the 6’0, 170 lb blueliner was sidelined with an upper-body injury in his first game back with the Oshawa Generals. Although he recovered in time to crack the Canadian roster for the 2010 World Juniors, a hit to the head in a game against Switzerland caused him to miss two games, and he finished the tournament with one assist in four contests. Then on Jan. 27 when he underwent surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum suffered in a game against Saginaw. The injury ended his 2009-10 season, and is expected to keep him sidelined for six months.

de Haan’s five goals and 19 assists in 34 games with the Generals this year put him well off pace to match last year’s career-high of 63 points. All things considered, this drop in offensive production is understandable. Despite having a rough season, his potential is too high to ignore. He’s an excellent skater, oozes hockey smarts, and plays a very poised game, rarely taking penalties. He possesses all the tools to be a very sound two-way defenseman in the NHL.

2. Jesse Joensuu, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

After getting two brief call-ups last year, Joensuu is inching closer to becoming a full-time NHLer. The Finnish left winger is putting together what could be his best season since arriving in North America three years ago. With 10 goals and 28 assists in 53 games with Bridgeport of the AHL, he is on pace to surpass his career-high 39 points, which he recorded in 71 games last year. His strong play has earned him another two call-ups this season. So far, he has dressed in 11 games for the Islanders and recorded one goal.

Standing at 6’4, 207 lb, Joensuu’s most valuable asset is his size, but he could benefit from putting on a bit more weight. Though he may not develop into a major scoring threat in the NHL, if he fills out his large frame he could take on a similar role as Devils forward Dainius Zubrus. With several smaller, skilled forwards coming up in the system, the Islanders could use a big body to protect the puck and battle along the boards.

3. Travis Hamonic, D 7C

Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2008 NHL Draft

The 19-year-old’s stock rose significantly after an explosive start to the 2009-10 season. He recorded 10 goals and 29 assists in 31 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors, and was leading all WHL defensemen in scoring when he was selected to represent Canada in the World Juniors this past December. After playing much of the tournament on the first pairing with Alex Pietrangelo (STL), Hamonic separated his shoulder in Canada’s semifinal game against Switzerland, and has been out of action since. Though he missed over six weeks of action, being traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings, hosts of this year’s Memorial Cup, will allow him to squeeze in a few extra games this season.

The departures of Andy Sutton (traded to Ottawa) and Brendan Witt (waived) may have opened up a spot for Hamonic on the Islanders next season. Some AHL seasoning wouldn’t hurt, but the 6’2, 215 lb blueliner is already one of the most NHL-ready prospects in the Islanders’ defensive pipeline. He has the size to compete in the pros, plays a very sound game in his own end, and has shown a fair amount of offensive upside.

4. Kirill Petrov, RW 7.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2008 NHL Draft

Frustrated with the ice time he was receiving with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, Petrov considered making a move to North America in January. Though he ultimately decided to finish out the rest of the year in Russia, it seems inevitable that he will sign with the Islanders before next season.

Whether he’s ready for the NHL, however, remains to be seen. Despite his lack of production in Russia, the 6’3, 198 lb right winger had a very strong showing at the 2010 World Juniors. He was given captaincy of the Russian squad after it was stripped from Columbus prospect Nikita Filatov, and led the team with four goals, six assists, and a solid plus-seven rating in six games. His soft hands and playmaking skills would certainly help an anemic Islanders offense, but there are some concerns about other aspects of his game. Petrov tends to shy away from physical contact and could stand to improve his defensive play.

5. Andrew MacDonald, 7C

Acquired: 6th round, 160th overall, 2006

MacDonald was a pleasant surprise this year, making big contributions on the Islanders just two years from seeing time in the ECHL. He has six points in 42 games and was recently signed to a four-year extension. MacDonald is a bit undersized for the NHL, but is smart enough positionally to get the job done. He’s currently out with a broken foot. MacDonald could be a top-four defenseman, but time will tell.

6. Rob Schremp, C 7D

Acquired: Claimed off waivers, 2009

So far, this season has been a microcosm of Schremp’s professional career. The Syracuse native was in and out of the lineup for the first half of the season, playing only two games in November. However, he seemed to find his stride after the Christmas break, and has collected six goals and 14 assists in 25 games since then. The big question now is whether he can keep it up. Consistency and drive continue to be two of Schremp’s biggest issues, just as they were when he was with the Oilers. He has the talent to be a top-six forward in the NHL, but has yet to apply it on a nightly basis. Now out for the season with injury, he will be a restricted free agent this summer.

7. Trevor Smith, C 6.5C

Acquired: Free Agency, 2007

Although Smith was unable to crack the Islanders roster out of training camp this fall, the 6’1, 195 lb center continues to be one of Bridgeport’s top scorers with 19 goals and 22 assists in 66 games. His production is down from last year, but the Sound Tigers are struggling across the board. After nearly winning the conference last season, they’re currently battling just to get a playoff spot. Nonetheless, Smith’s play has remained steady. The University of New Hampshire product will be a restricted free agent this summer, but at this point, it seems unlikely that the Islanders would let him walk. With four forwards slated to become unrestricted free agents in July, the Islanders will likely turn to skilled young players such as Smith to fill vacancies on the third and fourth lines.

8. Jason Gregoire, LW 7D

Acquired: 3rd round, 76th overall, 2007 NHL Draft

Gregoire is turning out to be a solid third-round pick for the Islanders. In his sophomore season at North Dakota, the left winger is leading the Fighting Sioux with 18 goals, and has 31 points through 36 games. Although he has demonstrated good hands, a knack for finding the back of the net, and a strong two-way game, he must continue to get stronger before making the jump up to the pros. At this point, there is no need for the Islanders to rush the 21-year-old, so they will likely keep him at North Dakota until he’s fully ready.

9. Rhett Rakhshani, RW 7D
Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

Rakhshani has had a strong senior season at Denver this year. After being voted captain by his teammates, the right winger has recorded career highs in goals (20) and points (48) through 36 games this season. The Islanders already attempted to sign him last summer, so barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will be heading to the pros after this season.

His strong work ethic, character, and leadership skills make him a valuable asset as the Islanders continue rebuilding with young players. Though he is a bit on the small side at 5’10, 180 lbs, he makes up for it with his speed and shiftiness, emulating the style of Flyers forward Danny Briere.

10. Aaron Ness, D 7D

Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2008 NHL Draft

The 5’10, 170 lb blueliner is putting up decent numbers in his sophomore year at Minnesota; his two goals and nine assists through 36 games put him slightly off pace to match last year’s point. However, he has yet to show the offensive flair that he became known for at the high school level. Nonetheless, the former Mr. Hockey award recipient did add some much-needed mass, coming into this season with 10 lbs more muscle. While he was one of the most skilled defensemen in his draft class, his size made him somewhat of a project pick. Therefore, getting bigger and stronger is a step in the right direction. The Islanders will have to be patient and allow him to develop at his own pace.

11. Mikko Koskinen, G 7D
Acquired: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2009 NHL Draft

With Rick DiPietro’s future uncertain and Martin Biron slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, this season could have been an opportunity for Koskinen to audition for a spot on the big club next year. Unfortunately, the Finnish netminder suffered a torn hip labrum that has kept him out of the lineup since late October. He only saw action in two games for Bridgeport before going down, and posted a 1-1-0 record, .902 save percentage, and 2.45 goals against average.

At 21, Koskinen is already a late bloomer, so this injury is a minor setback. However, he still remains an intriguing prospect. Standing at 6’6, he covers a lot of net, and his quick legs allow him to play the butterfly style with ease. Although he has resumed skating and should return soon, the Islanders may want him to spend a full season in the AHL as his game could use some fine-tuning. He tends to play too deep, and his lateral movement lacks fluidity.

12. Anders Nilsson, G 7D

Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2008

Like Koskinen, Nilsson is a massive butterfly goaltender. At the age of 19, he is already 6’5, and could add another inch or two by the time he is done growing. Size is his most recognizable asset, but it appears that the Islanders got the full package when they selected the Swedish netminder. He reads the game very well, can handle pressure situations, and is extremely athletic.
Currently in his first full season with Luleå HF of the Swedish Elite League, he is sharing goaltending duties with Anaheim prospect Mattias Modig, and has a 2.65 goals against average and .897 save percentage in 26 games. Nilsson also represented Sweden in the 2010 World Juniors. Though he primarily served as a backup for Jacob Markström (FLA), he won his only start against Austria. Nilsson is under contract with Luleå for one more year, so he most likely won’t make his North American debut until the 2011-12 season at the earliest.

13. Corey Trivino, C 7D
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall, 2008

Trivino joins the long list of Islanders prospects who have had their seasons cut short by injury this year. The 6’1, 170 lb center’s sophomore season ended prematurely after he suffered a broken leg in Boston University’s game against Maine on Feb. 13. This is his second major injury since arriving at BU, which does raise some questions about his durability. However, even prior to getting hurt, it appeared he would return to the Terriers next season. With four goals and 11 assists in 28 games, his offensive production did increase slightly from his freshman year, but is still underwhelming for a player with his skill level. Although the Islanders are well stocked at center, Trivino’s vision and ability to find open teammates through traffic make him one of the more promising playmakers in the bunch. The potential is there, but he must show that he can elevate his game at the collegiate level before he’s ready to move up to the pros.

14. Casey Cizikas, C 7D
Acquired: 4th round, 92nd overall, 2009

Cizikas has seemingly put the past behind him as he is having a breakout season with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL. There were some concerns about how his legal difficulties would impact his hockey career, but everything appears to be going well for Cizikas now. In his third OHL season, the 19-year-old center is one the Majors’ top scorers with 25 goals, 37 assists, and a team-leading plus-37 rating in 67 games. He won’t be eligible to play in the AHL next year, so unless he wows the Islanders in training camp, he will likely return to juniors next season. Nonetheless, his future does look brighter. With his solid all-around game and decent offensive upside, he has could challenge for a second or third-line spot on the Islanders in the next few years.

15. Justin DiBenedetto, C 7D

Acquired: 6th round, 175th overall, 2008

There has always been a lot of skepticism surrounding DiBenedetto. When he broke out for 93 points in 58 games with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2007-08, his numbers appeared inflated because he was a linemate of 2008 first overall pick Steven Stamkos. DiBenedetto matched that point total in 62 games after Stamkos left for the NHL the following year, but there was still some doubt because he did so as an overager. Unfortunately, the 6’0, 195 lb center has done little in first professional season to prove his detractors wrong. In 61 games with Bridgeport, he has six goals, eight assists, and a minus-eight rating. Still, one bad season isn’t going to be enough to write him off. The 21-year-old has been putting in the effort, averaging over 2.5 shots per game, but hasn’t had much luck getting on the score sheet. Sound Tigers coach Jack Capuano believes he’s simply going through a rough transition between juniors and pros as many players, including Stamkos, experience in their rookie seasons. With a full AHL season under his belt, DiBenedetto should return to top form next year.

16. Brian Day, RW 6.5C
Acquired: 6th round, 171st overall, 2006

Day is a part of the forward trio responsible for much of Colgate’s success this season. The Massachusetts native leads the Raiders with 20 goals, a plus-14 rating, and has 34 points in 32 games. Though he is not listed as a center, he is also the team’s top faceoff man. The Islanders got the complete package when they drafted Day. The 6’0, 195 lb right winger plays well at both ends of the ice, loves to shoot the puck, has strong leadership qualities. He will likely return to Colgate for his senior year, but if he keeps developing at his current pace, he should get a contract offer from the Islanders.

17. Matt Donovan, D 7D
Acquired: 4th round, 96th overall, 2008

Donovan is having a fantastic freshman season at Denver. His six goals and 12 assists make him the second leading scorer among Pioneers blueliners. The 19-year-old also won a gold medal with Team USA in 2010 World Juniors, finishing the tournament with three goals, two assists, and a plus-6 rating. While it’s still early, Donavan has shown the potential to be a solid two-way defenseman. He knows when to get involved in the offensive zone without abandoning his defensive post, and plays a sound game in his own end. He needs to learn how to stay out of the penalty box though. His 48 penalty minutes are tied for the team lead, and he has proven that he’s much more valuable on the ice than in the box.

18. Kevin Poulin, G 7D

Acquired: 5th round, 126th overall, 2008

In his fourth season with Victoriaville of the QMJHL, Poulin has posted a career-best 34 wins, 2.68 goals against average, .914 save percentage, and six shutouts through 53 games. This is a good sign for the 6’2, 210 lb netminder, who wasn’t particularly impressive the prior two seasons, but it’s worth noting that his numbers have been consistent with his team’s overall performance. This is the first time the Tigers have been playing above .500 since Poulin started getting the majority of starts in the 2007-08 season. The Montreal native is exceptionally talented, with quick legs and flashy glove hand. He’s finally harnassing his natural athletic ability.

19. Dustin Kohn, D 6.5C

Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2005

In his third professional season, Kohn has finally gotten a taste of the NHL, playing in 16 games for the Islanders, posting four points. Injuries have given him an opportunity, and it’s up to him to seize it and try to lay claim to a spot for next season. He’s also playing for his next contract. With Bridgeport this year, he posted 17 points in 45 games.

20. Blake Kessel, D 7D

Acquired: 6th round, 166th overall, 2007

The 20-year-old defenseman has eight goals, 25 assists, and is a plus-nine in 33 games for New Hampshire this year. It took some time for him to get going at the collegiate level, but he has emerged as one of the highest scoring defensemen in the nation. His game-tying goal against Boston College on March 5 clinched the Hockey East championship for New Hampshire, and as the Wildcats gear up for a playoff run, they will continue counting on the 6’2, 205 lb blueliner to come up big for them. Although another season at UNH wouldn’t hurt, Kessel could turn pro this summer.

Missing the cut

Mark Katic, D 6.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2007

Like de Haan, Katic will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn left shoulder labrum in February. Despite Bridgeport’s struggles this year, the 20-year-old did fairly well in his first professional season, recording three goals and 11 assists in 48 games. An excellent skater with good puck-handling skills and the ability to make sharp passes, Katic has the potential to be a second pairing defenseman or power-play specialist along the lines of an Ian White. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. With just 68 shots this season, he doesn’t shoot nearly enough for an offensive defenseman, and though he doesn’t shy away from physical contact, he could stand to add some upper-body strength.