The New York Islanders depth chart now exhibits strength at every position. Goaltending is certainly in safe hands while the blue line prospects are a heady mix of puck-movers and solid positional players. Three new high-end wingers give the emerging depth at center some balance, as the early season performance of later-round picks such as Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom compensate for the further regression of Rob Schremp.
The star newcomers to the Islanders depth chart are wingers Nino Niederreiter and Kirill Kabanov. Nino was just returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL after a nine game stint with the Islanders where he scored his first NHL goal and showed flashes of his power forward potential with his physical play. Kabanov was recently traded to Lewiston of the QMJHL, marking another transition for the skilled Russian winger who was thought to be a top five talent going into his draft year but is now a project player.
One such project that shows signs of paying off is lanky Finnish winger Jesse Joensuu, who is off to a strong start in his third year in the AHL and will surely see some more time with the Islanders this year. The 23-year-old has three goals and seven assists in 13 games and has also played a better all-around game.
High energy winger Matt Martin has jumped up a few places on the depth chart after earning a call-up to the Islanders and scoring his first NHL goal. In his six NHL games this season, he has already amassed 36 hits, far and away the most of any rookie player this season.
Swedish winger Robin Figren struggled to adapt to the AHL last season but seems to have found his legs with a strong start this year. He’ll never be an offensively prolific forward, but should provide a lot of energy up front.
Syracuse native Rob Schremp is soon to be off the prospect charts after a disappointing camp and an injury in his first AHL game. Showing few flashes of his talent last season, Schremp has never been able to consistently produce the form that made him a scoring sensation in the OHL. Recently returning from injury, Schremp has one assist in three games with the Isles this season.
Swedish center David Ullstrom is now the number one center in Bridgeport and the skilled 6’3 pivot is off to a flying start with seven points in 11 games.
The Islanders fourth round pick of 2009, Casey Cizikas is among the top scorers for Mississauga in the OHL while their sixth round pick that year, Anders Lee is a former football star who has muscled past NCAA defensemen for seven goals in nine games as a freshmen with Notre Dame.
University of North Dakota freshmen Brock Nelson has been learning to do more with less ice time, but the skill that made him a first rounder in 2010 has been evident. David Toews has left North Dakota in search of more ice-time with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL and has seven points in nine games.
Waiver-wire pickup Michael Grabner had a pair of goals in seven games with the Islanders before suffering a groin injury. He has since returned and is seeing some time on a line with John Tavares. To date he has three goals and one assist in 10 games this season.
Kirill Petrov has benefitted from more ice time after moving to a new team in the KHL and the 6’3 winger has 10 points in 15 games, whetting Isles fans appetite to see more of the smooth skating power forward prospect.
University of Denver grad Rhett Rakshani will be looked at to carry the offensive load for Bridgeport despite his rookie status. There have been concerns over the wingers size but so far he has three goals and four assists in 12 AHL games.
Corey Trivino should be a key offensive player as a junior with Boston University. Colgate senior Brian Day has four goals and three assists in her first six games and the 2006 sixth rounder is making a strong claim for a pro contract.
Big Slovak Tomas Marcinko skates on a checking line in Bridgeport and is a consistent, if limited, performer.
Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan are the power-play duo that Islanders fans can’t wait to see in action. Hamonic has a howitzer of a shot and has already fired two goals past AHL goalies in his first pro action after a very impressive playoff run with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL last year. The smooth-skating de Haan is an offensive defe
nseman with a good first pass and the patience and vision to quarterback the offense. Both look like they will be promising fixtures on the Isles blue line for years to come.
Tony DeHart projects as a solid two-way player and should develop a good understanding of the game from de Haan, his teammate with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
The Isles are also well represented well at the collegiate level. University of Denver sophomore Matt Donovan has been a workhorse for the Pioneers and loves to rush the puck, using his speed to generate offense and to recover in case of mishaps. Junior Blake Kessel leads from the back with the University of New Hampshire and is on a point per game pace. Aaron Ness is in his junior year at the University of Minnesota and the smooth skater has taken on a larger role with the Gophers this year. Shane Sims is in his senior year at Ohio State and currently leads the team in points from a defenseman.
Andy MacDonald may not have the same offensive upside as the other blue line prospects, but the 24 year old has been a steady performer at the NHL level and was a regular to start the season until breaking a finger.
Dustin Kohn played 22 games in the NHL last season but starts the year in Bridgeport where he will be the senior man in the prospect pool alongside second year pros Mark Katic, a decent point-producer in the OHL and Anton Klementyev, an import from Russia who is slowly adapting to the AHL.
Islanders GM Garth Snow replenished the goaltending prospect depth at the 2009 draft, selecting a pair of giant Scandinavians in Finland’s 6’5 Mikko Koskinen and Sweden’s 6’5 Anders Nilsson. A large man in the crease in his playing days, Snow’s attempts to replicate himself may yet pay spectacular dividends for the Isles. Koskinen has been strong in the AHL despite a 1-4 record, while the play of Nilsson in the SEL has been spectacular.
In the shadow of those two giants, 6’2 Kevin Poulin allowed just seven goals in his first four games with Bridgeport and the Montreal native may yet emerge at the top of the goalie depth chart if he continues to excel at that standard.