No rush for deep and diverse group of New York Islanders prospects

By Christian Litscher
Photo: Although Kevin Czuczman hasn’t put on an Islanders jersey since his 13-game stint in March, 2014, it is only a matter of time before he finds his way back to the NHL. (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Photo: Although Kevin Czuczman hasn’t put on an Islanders jersey since his 13-game stint in March, 2014, it is only a matter of time before he finds his way back to the NHL. (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

 

The New York Islanders prospect pool remains one of the stronger ones in the NHL. There are high-upside players and depth at every position. The Islanders have been able to stock the system with four first-round picks in the past two drafts. With these picks, they have taken four forwards: Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier. They are all tremendously skilled and represent the next wave of forward prospects for the Islanders. Ryan Pulock was the team’s first-round pick in 2013, and is on the cusp of cracking the NHL lineup.

The Sound Tigers have gotten off to a fantastic start to the season. It is the first time in their history that they have started a season 5-0. With new additions to the team and the maturation of the younger players, Bridgeport looks in line to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

Left Wing

What was a position of weakness in the Islanders pool not too long ago, now has some legitimately talented players. Beauvillier was a first-round pick in last June’s draft, and impressed the Islanders brass in training camp. His combination of skill and grit gives him a good shot of becoming an NHL player. He has gotten off to a hot start as captain of the Shawinigan Cataractes, scoring 25 points in his first 12 games. If he continues his play, he will be in the mix for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Beauvillier projects as a top-six forward, but can play anywhere in the top nine. He signed an entry-level contract with the Islanders on October 23, 2015.

All eyes will continue to be on top prospect Michael Dal Colle in what will be his last season of junior. He will surely finish as one of the top scorers in the OHL again this season. Dal Colle should also represent Canada at the World Junior Championships in a top-six role. The skilled winger has the talent to be a fixture in the Islanders’ top six if he continues to progress. Dal Colle will be eligible to play in the AHL next season should the Islanders choose to remain patient with him.

Mike Halmo is on the outside looking in on a potential roster spot. The gritty forward has NHL experience, appearing in 20 games for the Islanders in the 2013-14 season and looked good doing so. Injuries limited Halmo to 33 games last season. For now, Halmo will be a leader for the Sound Tigers at the AHL level and has the talent to fill in on an injury callup and not be a liability for the team.

Ross Johnston was signed last spring as an undrafted free agent out of the QMJHL. He was a former camp invite of the Islanders and earned a contract after a strong 2014-15 season. Johnston adds size and depth to the Sound Tiger lineup with the ability to chip in offensively. He is also known for his fighting ability. Justin Vaive was signed this offseason to a two-way contract. He played for the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL last season, and will provide depth and leadership for the Sound Tigers this season.

Center

Center hasn’t been a major focus for the Islanders at recent drafts, since John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome, Mikhail Grabvoski, and Casey Cizikas are all capable NHL centers. Because of this, the Islanders have a small but skilled group of center prospects. Alan Quine has developed tremendously since being drafted and is the closest to being ready to make an impact. He led the Sound Tigers in scoring last season and is off to a hot start again this year. Quine isn’t well-suited for a bottom-six role, so it will be interesting to watch his development over the next few seasons.

Barzal has the high ceiling amongst Islanders center prospect. His vision and offensive abilities are elite and make him a highly anticipated prospect. Barzal impressed enough in training camp to the point where he was the last prospect sent back to juniors. Upon returning there, the skilled centerman displayed his talent in the WHL, with 20 points in 10 games. Like Dal Colle, the British Columbia native will be in the mix for a roster spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors. The Islanders traded up to select Barzal and he is looking like a possible steal at 16th overall. Barzal is more effective at center, but could end up on the wing due to the team’s depth at center.

Carter Verhaeghe was acquired from Toronto in the Michael Grabner trade. The 2013 third-rounder is an intelligent two-way center. He led the Niagara IceDogs in scoring last season, on a team that featured fellow Islanders prospect Ho-Sang and Arizona Coyotes first-rounder Brendan Perlini. Verhaeghe started the year in Bridgeport, but was sent down to the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL. The Ontario native has the potential to become a bottom-six forward in the NHL if his development goes well.

Kyle Schempp will return to Ferris State for his junior year as captain of the team. The 2014 sixth-rounder has gotten off to a solid start, with eight points in eight games. After being selected to the 2014 WCHA All-Rookie team, Schempp hit a sophomore slump last season finishing with 16 points. The Michigan native will have to return to his freshman form over the next two years to eventually earn a contract from the Islanders.

Johan Sundstrom has returned home to Sweden to play for Frölunda HC of the SHL. The 2011 second-rounder never found his offensive touch in North America, but has fared well this season with eight goals and four assists in 16 games.

Right Wing

The Islanders’ right wing prospects are all of the high risk, high reward variety. Ho-Sang is the most talented of the group, having been a hyped prospect since he was a teenager. Now, in his last OHL season, Ho-Sang has yet to find the success some thought he might have with his elite hands and creativity. He is still an offensive leader for Niagara, and will be amongst the OHL’s top scorers. Ho-Sang’s off-ice issues have been well documented, but that doesn’t take away from his standing as a potential top-six forward at the NHL level.

Kirill Petrov is by far the oldest of the bunch, at 25-years-old and is the closest to making an impact. He has finally come over to North America after five seasons in the KHL, and has started the season in Bridgeport. He has fared well, with five points in 11 games. The Russian native has the size and skill to play a bottom-six role for the Islanders. Petrov was a late cut from the team and it shouldn’t be long before he finds himself in the orange and blue.

Sebastian Collberg displays flashes of offensive talent, which gives you hope he can develop into an NHL player. His shot release is elite and he has good speed—making him an offensive threat. However, he has problems with consistency and has yet to find the scoring touch you would expect from a player of his skill level. Collberg is still a young player who has time to put it all together.

Taylor Cammarata will return to Minnesota for his junior season. He looks to breakout this season after posting back-to-back 27-point seasons. Cammarata has great vision and finishing abilities, but at 5-foot-7, his size holds him back. The Minnesota native will have to show great improvement over the next two years to earn a contract from the Islanders.

Defense

The position with the most depth is at defense. Ryan Pulock is the top prospect here and is the closest to making an impact at the NHL level. The 2014 first-rounder made the team out of training camp, but was shortly sent down to Bridgeport as it is more beneficial to him to play top minutes for the Sound Tigers than sit in the press box for the Islanders. He is a potential top-four defenseman and will become an integral piece of the top powerplay unit.

Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech have also been impressive and will be the next ones pushing for a spot. They have been paired together so far, logging heavy minutes for the Sound Tigers. Mayfield has some NHL experience already; he played two games in the playoffs for the Islanders last season and appeared in five games for the Islanders in the 2013-14 season. Mayfield projects as a tough, defensive-minded defenseman who can kill penalties and is willing to stick up for his teammates. Pelech looked good in training camp and preseason. He projects as a steady two-way defenseman with hockey smarts. Both are the next defensive prospects in line pushing for a roster spot.

Kevin Czuczman, Jesse Graham, and Kyle Burroughs provide strong organizational depth and will continue to fine-tune their game at the professional level. Czuczman will play top-four minutes from the backend for the Sound Tigers. He is a defensive-minded player with good size who plays a simple game. Graham looks like he has taken a step forward this season. His speed allows him to make things happen from the backend, and has two goals and two assists in ten games. Burroughs was a victim of the depth of the Sound Tigers defense. He will suit up for the Mavericks this season in his first professional season.

Matt Finn and Tom Nilsson were acquired from Toronto in the Grabner trade. Finn was drafted 35th overall in 2012. He is a two-way defenseman with good decision-making and hockey sense. His footspeed has held him back from becoming the standout he was in junior thus far in his young career. There wasn’t room for Nilsson to play in the AHL, so he will play alongside Sundstrom for Frölunda HC of the SHL this season. Nilsson has one year left on his contract, and would need a big year to get re-signed.

Mitchell Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon will continue to develop in the CHL. Vande Sompel plays with Dal Colle in Oshawa. He is a talented offensive defenseman who excels on the powerplay. His defensive game is improving, but needs work to reach the next level. Vande Sompel has a high ceiling and the Islanders will take their time in order for him to hit his potential. Wotherspoon is a two-way defenseman who has good hockey sense. He has gotten off to a fast start to the season with 13 points in 15 games. Although he doesn’t have the highest potential, his game projects well to the NHL level.

Devon Toews, Doyle Somerby, and Jake Bischoff will all now be upperclassman for their respective NCAA teams. Toews has gotten off to a hot start for Quinnipiac University with six points in six games. The fourth-rounder should be an integral piece of their team all season long. Somerby will lead a young Terriers team from the backend this season, and is off to a good start with four assists in six games. His size makes him an intriguing prospect moving forward. Bischoff will be looking to help fill the void left by Mike Reilly this season. The 2013 seventh-rounder will serve as an assistant captain for the Gophers this season.

Loic Leduc will play for the Mavericks this season. He started the year with the Sound Tigers appearing in one game, but was shortly sent down. His size is an asset at 6-foot-7, but Leduc looks like a career minor leaguer. Petter Hansson will continue to develop in Sweden this season. He has the ability to put up points, but his play away from the puck needs work. Andong Song will transfer to play for Phillips Academy Andover of the New England Prep league for his postgrad season.

Goaltending

The Islanders have accumulated great depth in goal. Jean-Francois Berube was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings. He has served as the backup goaltender to Thomas Griese while Jaroslav Halak was out with an injury.

Christopher Gibson and Stephon Williams will split time in the AHL this season. The duo will provide the stability in net that the Sound Tigers have lacked in recent years. Gibson was acquired from Toronto in the Grabner trade. The once highly ranked prospect is coming off a strong year with the Marlies last season and is looking to build off that. Williams is in his first professional season, and had a great start—winning his first three games of the season. Both players have the potential to be solid backups in the NHL.

Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom will continue to develop in Europe. Sorokin has the highest upside amongst Islanders goaltending prospects. He has shared time with Stanislav Galimov and Viktor Fasth for the KHL’s CSKA Moskva. He has appeared in nine games, having great success with a 1.08 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. Sorokin has also appeared in one game in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier professional league. Linus Soderstrom will continue to develop in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier league. He will also represent Sweden again at the World Juniors in Helsinki. Soderstrom is a project who needs time to continue his development.

Eamon McAdam is in his junior season for Penn State, where he will share goaltending duties for the Nittany Lions. He looks to take another step forward this season.