NHL Prospect Signings: Islanders sign NCAA prospect, free agent from QMJHL

By Ken McKenna
Stephon Williams - Minnesota State University - 2015 WCHA Final Five - Championship

Photo: Former Minnesota State University goaltender and New York Islanders prospect Stephon Williams (#35) played a major part in the Mavericks’ ranking as the #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament (courtesy of Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

 

The New York Islanders have built up a solid group of prospects in recent years, with the payoff being just their third playoff appearance in the past 10 seasons. They continued adding to their prospect depth at the pro level with the signing of two prospects, one a draftee and the other a free agent.

The Islanders, as well as the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and New York Rangers were the Metropolitan Division teams active in signing NHL prospects over the past week.

Islanders sign Williams, add Johnston to prospect pool

One of the better comeback stories from this past season was the return to form of Minnesota State University goaltender, Stephon Williams. The Fairbanks, AK native was named to both the WCHA All-Rookie and First All-Star Teams in his freshman season, then appeared in just 12 games in his sophomore campaign, taking a back seat to then-freshman, Cole Huggins. But Williams reverted to the stellar play of his frosh campaign in the 2014-15 season, playing in 35 of the Mavericks’ 40 games and leading the team to a top ranking in the NCAA polls.

For the season, Williams posted a 1.65 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, statistics that were among the best in the nation this season. His .779 winning percentage is second in the nation behind Boston University’s Matt O’Connor, who is preparing for the Frozen Four. The Mavericks won their second consecutive WCHA championship, but were eliminated as the top seed in the NCAA Tournament by RIT.

A third round pick for the Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft, Williams has good size (6’2”, 190 lbs.), a quick glove, and plays a sound positional game when he is playing well. He still needs to work on his consistency with the latter trait, and he is not regarded as a great puck handler.

Williams signed a two-year, entry-level deal that begins in 2015-16, and he has reported to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on an ATO for the remainder of this season.

The Islanders dipped into the QMJHL to add some size to their forward ranks, signing Charlottetown Islanders left wing Ross Johnston to a three-year, entry-level deal. The 21-year-old had his best season offensively in 2014-15, posting 32 points (18G, 14A) in 44 games to go along with 124 penalty minutes. The Charlottetown, PEI native is in the final year of a four-year QMJHL career that also includes stints with the Moncton Wildcats and Victoriaville Tigres.

Johnston is a potential power forward who is blessed more with size and a good work ethic than he is with skill. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Johnston is a sizable player who isn’t afraid to use that size to his advantage. He’ll develop his game in Bridgeport for the foreseeable future, but could slot in as a lower-line winger should he reach the NHL.

Another signing within the Islanders organization is that of former Ferris State University goaltender, C.J. Motte. Motte, the brother of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Tyler Motte, signed an ATO with Bridgeport through the end of this season but has not signed an entry-level deal, leaving him free to sign elsewhere next season. While his won-lost record wasn’t as strong this season as it was in 2013-14, the St. Clair, MI native still posted good numbers, including a 2.07 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 40 games for the Bulldogs.

Motte has already appeared in two AHL games for the Tigers and has acquitted himself very well. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily have the size that teams covet at this position, but Motte has overcome those concerns over the course of his impressive college career and could win over the Islanders or another NHL team should he continue to succeed at the pro level.

Capitals ink college scoring star to deal

The Washington Capitals have a few intriguing offensive players in their prospect pool. They brought one of those players into the fold when they signed former University of Minnesota forward Travis Boyd to a two-year, entry-level deal that begins in 2015-16. Boyd joins the AHL’s Hershey Bears for the remainder of this season on an ATO.

Boyd is coming off of the best offensive season of his four-year college career. In 32 games, the Hopkins, MN native scored 19 goals and added 22 assists for 41 points. He was named to the Big Ten Second All-Star Team, and was also a choice for the All-Big Ten Tournament Team. Over the course of his college career, Boyd scored 32 goals and added 64 assists for 96 points in 148 games.

Boyd is a slightly-built (5’11”, 183 lbs.) center with obvious offensive skills and a good two-way game. He has a good, accurate shot, and can skate through traffic with efficiency. He’ll have to show that his skills translate at the AHL level before getting a shot with the Capitals, but Boyd could end up being a find as a former sixth round pick form the 2011 NHL Draft.

Hurricanes sign newest acquisition

Back at the NHL trade deadline, the Carolina Hurricanes dealt veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a conditional first round pick, plus defensive prospect Roland McKeown. McKeown, a second round pick for the Kings at the 2014 NHL Draft, just completed his third season with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, where he served as team captain in 2014-15.

Although the Frontenacs were just swept out of the OHL playoffs by the North Bay Battalion, McKeown had a solid season for that team. In 65 games, the Listowel, ON native scored seven goals and added 25 assists for 32 points. So far in his OHL career, McKeown has totaled 25 goals and 79 assists for 104 points in 188 games.

The 6’1”, 195-pound McKeown is known for being a smart, two-way defender who has a good shot and accurate passing skills. As with many all-around defenders, there isn’t one part of his game that stands out, but McKeown has the size and ability to one day log time on the Hurricanes’ blueline.

McKeown signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Hurricanes. It would kick in for the 2015-16 season if he sticks with the NHL team, but he could still be sent back to juniors for further development.

Rangers sign 2012 first round pick

The Eastern Conference’s top team added more talent to an already solid defensive unit as the New York Rangers signed former University of Minnesota defenseman, Brady Skjei. Skjei just completed his junior season, one in which the Golden Gophers won the Big Ten championship but were unable to advance past the NCAA Tournament.

For the 2014-15 season, Skjei scored a goal and added 9 assists for 10 points in 33 games. For his college career, the Lakeville, MN native netted eight goals and chipped in 19 assists for 27 points in 109 games, while also posting a cumulative +33 rating.

At 6’3” and 205 pounds, Skjei definitely has a pro build, although he doesn’t always make use of that size. He is considered to be a smart, defensive defenseman with some offensive upside to his game, and his skating is above average for a big man.

Skjei signed an entry-level deal that begins in 2015-16, and he is currently with the Hartford Wolf Pack on an ATO through the end of this season. He has already played in one game for the Wolf Pack since signing.

NHL Prospect Signings – 4/2/15

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