New York Islanders prospects help AHL affiliate out of basement

By Christian Litscher
Photo: Kevin Czuczman has 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 36 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this season. (Courtesy of Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Photo: Kevin Czuczman has 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 36 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this season. (Courtesy of Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

 

 

After finishing in the basement of the AHL standings over the past few seasons, the New York Islanders AHL affiliate has found success this year and currently sits third in the Atlantic Division. They have a 16-12-3 record due to solid goaltending and great depth, led offensively by a new face in Joe Whitney, who has been among the AHL scoring leaders all season long.

The team started out great, winning their first five, but has hit a rough patch as of late losing eight of their last ten. The Islanders have been relatively healthy this season which has allowed the Sound Tigers roster to remain mostly intact.

The Islanders ECHL affiliate, the Missouri Mavericks, sit atop the ECHL standings with a 22-3-1 record. Two Islanders prospects in Carter Verhaeghe and Kyle Burroughs have been great contributors to the team.

Many of the prospects in the Islanders system are playing at professional level. Three goaltenders, seven forwards, and eight defenseman are playing at the AHL and ECHL levels. Defenseman Ryan Pulock is the only first rounder out of the group.

AHL

Stephon Williams, G, 22

Williams has had a successful AHL debut season. The Alaska native has made half of a stellar tandem along with Christopher Gibson. Williams has started 15 games this season and has a 7-8-1 record. He has gotten better with every game. He has good size in net and has the ability to make the big save. The Minnesota State alum will be looking to fine tune his game over the next few seasons before competing for the Islanders backup role in the upcoming seasons.

Christopher Gibson, G, 23

Gibson was one of the five players acquired from the Maple Leafs in the Michael Grabner trade. He has started 21 games for the Sound Tigers and has a 11-5-3 record. A once highly-touted prospect in his draft year, Gibson’s career got off to a slow start. This year, he has been excellent and his 1.99 goals-against average and .928 save percentage are both amongst the AHL leaders this season. The Finnish netminder also has two shutouts. Along with Williams, Gibson represents the Islanders future in net and will be looking to eventually replace Thomas Greiss as the Islanders backup.

Jean-Francois Berube, G, 24

Berube was claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings during the preseason. Jaroslav Halak was injured at the time and the Islanders needed security in net. During his time with the big team, Berube appeared in one game, making his NHL debut in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. When Halak returned from his injury, Berube was sent down to the Sound Tigers and has now served as the third string behind Gibson and Williams. Berube appeared in one game for the Sound Tigers, playing 40 minutes of a 3-1 loss to the Albany Devils. Berube only let in one goal.

Kirill Petrov, RW, 25

After years of speculation, Petrov finally came over to North America this season. The 2008 third-rounder impressed in the preseason, but was a late cut from the Islanders roster. Upon being sent down to Bridgeport, Petrov appeared in 13 games. Petrov got off to a good start, playing in 10 games in October, notching a goal and four assists. Petrov broke his foot in early November which limited him to two games for the month.

Petrov was out for about six weeks with the injury before returning to action on December 18th. The Islanders announced on December 20th that Petrov had been assigned to Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. Petrov will spend the rest of the regular season there and will be eligible to return to the Islanders for a playoff push if the Islanders choose so. However, it is unlikely that Petrov will ever return to North America.

Sebastian Collberg, RW, 21

Collberg has had another disappointing season as a Sound Tiger, a campaign in which he has three goals and six assists in 26 games. The former second-round pick has been up and down the lineup, but has gotten powerplay time on the second unit. Collberg has the talent with great offensive skills, but his future as an NHL player is looking cloudy at this point. With the depth of the Islanders forward core and the talent in the pipeline looking to move up to the professional level in the near future, Collberg is going to have a tough time cracking the team’s lineup.

Ross Johnston, LW, 21

Johnston is playing in his first full professional season this year. He was signed out of the QMJHL after his overage junior season and has seen mostly fourth line minutes for the Sound Tigers. He scored his first professional goal on October 16th against the Providence Bruins in a 5-4 win. Although the offensive side of the game will never be Johnston’s calling card, he provides size and grit to the bottom six.

Mike Halmo, LW, 24

Halmo is now in his fourth AHL season and has served as an assistant captain for the Sound Tigers for the second season in a row. Halmo has a scoring role, skating mostly on a line with Alan Quine. Although he hasn’t put up the numbers he once did, he has done the dirty work for the line in the corners and around the net. Halmo did not look out of place in his 2013-2014 NHL stint and can serve as a callup when injuries strike the big team.

Justin Vaive, LW, 26

Vaive was signed this offseason to provide leadership for the Sound Tigers. He is a veteran of four AHL seasons and has worked his way up through the ECHL ranks. Now playing on the team’s third line, Vaive has been the leader the club was looking for and has made an offensive contribution with 11 points. Standing at 6-foot-4, Vaive has also provided grit and toughness to the lineup. At 26 years old, Vaive is a career minor leaguer.

Alan Quine, C, 22

Quine led the Sound Tigers in scoring last season, and has been a key offensive contributor again this year. The Windsor, Ontario native has seven goals and 10 assists in 26 games. He started the season hot with 16 points in his first 16 games, but has had trouble scoring as of late and only has one point in his last 10 games. Quine has been playing well enough that he deserves a look at the NHL level if one of the Islanders forwards were to go down with an injury. However, he needs to be placed in a scoring role to be effective.

Ryan Pulock, D, 21

Pulock is one of the top defensive prospects currently playing in the AHL. He has built on his strong play from last season with 14 points in 29 games, which is tied for the team lead from the backend. Pulock has scored three times on the man advantage with his strong shot from the point. The 2013 first-rounder has also played well defensively, with good positioning and strength. With the trade of Griffin Reinhart, Pulock is the clear top prospect for the Islanders from the backend and will eventually be looking to fill the shoes of Johnny Boychuk from the backend.

Scott Mayfield, D, 23

Mayfield has also continued his strong play for the Sound Tigers this season. Now in his third season with the Sound Tigers, he has played top pairing minutes and has been a pillar of strength from the backend. He has played a defensive role and played on the penalty kill as he has for the past two seasons. Mayfield has seven games of NHL experience, two of which were in the postseason and is knocking on the door for an NHL spot. He is developing well and it shouldn’t be long before the Islanders decide to give him a look. His size and strength would be a welcome addition to the Islanders blueline.

Adam Pelech, D, 21

Like Pulock and Mayfield, Pelech has been developing well for the Sound Tigers. He has played on a pairing with Scott Mayfield and the two have been counted on to play a shutdown role. Pelech hasn’t been the offensive threat he was in juniors with four points on the season, but it is his overall game that has been impressive. Pelech was called up to the Islanders in mid-November and appeared for two games. Pelech finished with a plus one rating in his limited ice time on the third pairing. Pelech is among the next wave of Islanders defense prospects knocking on the door and will be looking to make a push for the team in the coming years. He projects to be a defensive oriented defenseman with good size and strong hockey sense.

Jesse Graham, D, 21

Graham has broken out offensively this season with 14 points in 29 games, which ties him with Pulock for the team lead from the backend. Graham plays on the third pairing for the Sound Tigers and his usual partner has been long-time veteran Matt Carkner. Graham also plays on the second powerplay unit. The Toronto native can create offense from the backend due to his speed and ability to push the pace. His defensive game and decision making need work for Graham to reach the next level in his development.

Kevin Czuczman, D, 24

Czuczman is in his second full professional season. He has become a leader for the Sound Tigers and has mostly been paired with Pulock. The Lake Superior State alum has good size and plays a simple and efficient game. Czuczman will never be looked at to provide offense, but he plays well defensively and is a regular on the penalty kill. Due to his development path, Czuczman is older than the other Islanders defense prospects. Czuczman played 13 games in an Islanders uniform during the 2013-2014 season and looked like he could establish himself as a bottom-pairing defenseman.

Matt Finn, D, 21

Matt Finn is another player who was acquired from Toronto in the Grabner trade. He has appeared in 13 games and has three points. Finn was a strong player in junior, but he has struggled at times at the AHL level and has often found himself in the press box. Finn is young, and is behind many other defense prospects in the pecking order. He still has time to find his game, but will need to get back on track soon to reestablish himself as an NHL prospect.

Loic Leduc, D, 21

After spending all of last season in the ECHL, Leduc has split time between minor leagues this year. He has appeared in six games for the Sound Tigers as well as five games for the Mavericks. He has no points for the Sound Tigers, but did score a goal for the Mavericks. Leduc is a giant on the ice, standing at 6-foot-7, but appears to be nothing more than a minor league player at this point in time.

ECHL

Carter Verhaeghe, C, 20

Verhaeghe is yet another player acquired in the Grabner trade. He has been an offensive leader for the Mavericks with 19 points in 15 games. Verhaeghe was a prolific scorer at the OHL level and should get his chance in the AHL as soon as next season.

Kyle Burroughs, D, 20

Burroughs has made his professional debut playing for the Missouri Mavericks. The 2013 seventh rounder has five points in 17 games and is a plus 11. Burroughs has had to play in the ECHL due to the defensive depth of the Sound Tigers, but will be looking for an AHL spot next season.

Other Notable Prospects

Linus Soderstrom has had his best season so far. He has started 12 games in the Allsvenskan and has a 1.90 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Parker Wotherspoon and Mitchell Vande Sompel have continued their strong play for their respective CHL clubs. Wotherspoon has 16 points in his last 13 games and Vande Sompel had eight points in seven December games.

Eamon McAdam is having his best season to date with Penn State. He has been the best Nittany Lion goaltender with a 2.01 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. McAdam has a 7-1 record in his eight starts.

Prospect of the Month: Ilya Sorokin

Ilya Sorokin - New York IslandersWhat Ilya Sorokin is doing at the KHL level would be impressive for a wily veteran, let alone a 20-year-old. The talented netminder leads the KHL in save percentage at .954, and goals-against average at 0.99. Sorokin was struggling to get in the lineup earlier in the season, but has seen the majority of CSKA Moskva starts as of late and has only let in four goals since November in seven starts. Sorokin has not let in more than one goal in any of those starts and has three shutouts.

Sorokin is a classic athletic Russian netminder who can make the flashy save. Sorokin is under contract until 2018 in the KHL, so he has time to develop further before getting an NHL look. With Sorokin, Gibson, Williams, Soderstrom, and McAdam, the team’s future in net looks strong.