So far this season the Islanders have been very careful with their deep and talented prospect pool. This should be no surprise after what occurred with Josh Bailey. The ninth overall selection in the 2008 draft, Bailey was rushed to the NHL when he was not physically ready. Since then, Bailey has battled inconsistency and been sent down to the AHL on more than one occasion.
The Islanders are very thin at left wing with only two in their top 20 prospect list, without including Casey Cizikas. Their top overall prospect, Nino Niederreiter, sustained a groin injury during a preseason game. As is typical of a groin injury, it has been cranky and could possibly nag him the rest of the season. He was supposed to compete for a spot on the top line with John Tavares, but he has yet to make an appearance this regular season. The Islanders are being very careful with this injury and do not appear to be rushing him back. There is no timetable on his return, but it should be soon. Once he returns he should be given another chance on the top line. If he can create some rapport with Tavares the Isles would have a very dynamic top-six.
Justin DiBenedetto is thriving in his sophomore season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He is on a goal per game pace with seven goals in seven games. DiBenedetto can put the puck in the back of the net with the best of them. If the Islanders get the injury bug do not be surprised if he is one of the first players called up given his great start to the season. When given the chance he will be hungry to prove himself after not being able to bury the puck in his eight game stint with the Islanders last season.
Johan Persson is a Swedish prospect to keep an eye on after a breakout season with the 2011 number one overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM). A member of the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Persson has 13 points in 14 games for them this season. It will be very interesting how he performs this season without Nugent-Hopkins as his pivot. He is a project, but his dedication to playing in North America is intriguing. On the other hand, the Islanders may have lost two fellow Swedish prospects. Jesse Joenssu and Robin Figren, both who decided to leave Bridgeport and play in the SEL.
The depth at the center position is by far the greatest of all positions. They have thirteen total centers in their organization. Casey Cizikas played center all of junior, but he is now listed as playing left wing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL. He is off to a hot start so far this season with seven points in nine games. His strong play thus far on the wing is a good sign for the Islanders as versatile players are very valuable. Considering the Islanders have a lot of depth at the center position they may have him permanently switch.
David Ullstrom, also a member of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, is off to hot start as well with four goals in nine games. Ullstrom is a big Swede that packs a scoring punch. He has good speed for such a tall player. If he can put on some more weight and work on his defensive zone coverage he would be the perfect third line center of the future.
The biggest story so far this season is the Islanders’ decision to send Ryan Strome back to his junior team, the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He is picking up right where he left off in the OHL with 11 points in eight games. Though did not appear in any regular season games, he showed some great promise during the preseason. Because he did not play more than nine games with Islanders he still has three years remaining on his entry-level deal. With John Tavares pegged as the top center for years to come, Strome would project to be the second line center. He has great hands and a wicked snapshot, but needs to learn to make simpler plays when he moves on to the next level. He will definitely benefit from this season of junior and a chance to play for Canada in the World Junior Championships.
Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are both off to torrid starts with their respective college squads. Nelson is on pace to shatter his statistics he posted last year with the University of North Dakota. Through eight games he has four foals and four assists. If he keeps this up he will have no problem topping the 21 points he posted in 42 games last season. Lee has also been great so far this season with 10 goals in just seven games playing for Notre Dame. Both of these players have great size, which is very important in becoming a center at the next level. If they keep progressing they may decide to bypass their final collegiate years and play junior or go straight to Bridgeport.
In the second round of the 2011 draft the Islanders selected Johan Sundstrom. Another big Swede currently playing in the Swedish Elite League (SEL), Sundstrom has not had much success on the score sheet thus far, but the fact that he is playing in a league with grown men is promising.
The right wing position is not very deep, but there is a lot of upside. Kirill Kabanov created some controversy during the offseason. After attending training camp he was assigned to his QMJHL team, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Before he could play a game with them he was loaned to the SEL, but a day later he was traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. He has yet to play a regular season game this season. Kabanov staying in North America is a good sign for the Islanders. He has tremendous upside to go along with some attitude issues and occasionally questionable decision-making. There is no doubt that he has the potential, the question is can be put everything together and produce at the next level.
Kirill Petrov is another promising right wing with a lot of upside, which is already being showcased this season. In 19 games in the KHL. With 14 points in 19 games, he is close to matching his 20 point total from last season in less than half as many games. It is very promising for the Islanders that he is posting these goal totals in what many scouts feel is the second best league in the world. He has great size and blazing speed. He needs to improve his defensive play and become more physical if he is going to have a smooth transition to the North American style of play.
Rhett Rakhshani caught some bad luck during the preseason and sustained a concussion. This is bad news because his size and durability have been questioned throughout his career. He was competing for a spot with the Islanders when the injury occurred. Due to the injury he has yet to appear in a game so far this season. He is expected to be out for a significant time period. If he can return to form, this diminutive forward can pack a serious scoring punch and has proved everyone wrong his whole career. He has proved himself in the AHL, he just needs to do the same when he gets his chance with the Islanders.
The Islanders have five defensive prospects playing in Bridgeport and one other who may be lost for the season. Mark Katic injured his shoulder requiring surgery putting his season in jeopardy. Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness and Calvin de Haan are all considered rookies in the AHL. De Haan is the only player of the three rookies that had never played a game in the AHL before this season. He had a shot of making the Islanders out of camp, but the Islanders did not want to rush him because they already have a lot of depth at the position. He has played in nine games so far and registered four assists. He definitely has the most upside of all the defensemen in Bridgeport and what he lacks in size, he makes up for with smart decision-making, outstanding skating, and crisp first passes. He also is great at manning the point on the power play. If there are injuries along the blue line for the Islanders he may be the first to be called up.
Of all the defensemen playing in Bridgeport Aaron Ness has been the most impressive. He does not possess great size, but is a great puck mover. His positioning is excellent which makes up his lack of size. He also is not afraid to shoot the puck on the power play. Through seven games he has recorded one goal and three assists to lead the team’s defense in points.
Hulking defensemen, Ty Wishart, is off to a solid start this season. He has a lot of experience in the AHL but has been a disappointment as of late. Before the start of the season he was sent down to Bridgeport and had to clear waivers, which was surprising considering his upside. Many have been down on him, but he has a huge frame which cannot be taught. If he can learn to use his size correctly and start a mean streak he could find a spot on the Islanders back end.
Matt Donovan is another big defensemen with a lot of promise. He had a brief stint with the Tigers last season after finishing a tremendous year at Denver University. In his six games last season he sparked a lot of excitement recording five points in those games. This year he is having a little trouble settling in and getting used to the professional game. There is no doubt he has the size, but he must improve his foot speed to be effective in the NHL. Once he does this, he will become a top six defensemen for the Islanders.
The Islanders do have one high-ranking defensive prospect that is not currently playing at the professional level. That player is Scott Mayfield who is currently a freshman at Denver University. Mayfield is a project, but has a ton of upside. The Islanders were very lucky to have him fall to them in the second round of the 2011 draft. At 6’4 he has great height, but needs to further fill out his 200 pound frame. For his height, he has quick feet and is very mobile. In a few years he could develop into an all-situation, top-four defenseman.
The Islanders also drafted three more defensemen in the 2011 draft. Those defensemen include Andrei Pedan, Robbie Russo, and Brenden Kichton. Andrey Pedan is a big Russian currently playing in his sophomore season for the Guelph Storm of the OHL.
Pedan is building off of a very strong postseason in which he had eight helpers in just six games. So far this season he has four goals and four assists in 11 games. He is not afraid to use his size and throw his body around. He also is becoming more comfortable with the smaller rink and has become more offensive minded and is not afraid to join the rush.
Robbie Russo is another defensemen currently playing in the collegiate ranks for Notre Dame along with fellow prospect Anders Lee. Russo has decent size, but has great speed. He will not blow you away with his statistics, but is a good all-around defensemen.
Brenden Kichton is a very offensive-minded defensemen currently playing for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He is a prolific scorer, but does not have great size. He needs to fill out his small frame as well. Last season he recorded 81 points in 64 games.
The Islanders have a lot of potential in the goaltending department. Their two top goaltending prospects are currently playing in the AHL. Kevin Poulin has struggled thus far after a tremendous showing last season. He has appeared in four games for Bridgeport posting an uncharacteristic 4.71 goals against average and a .853 save percentage. Poulin is a great competitor and has the potential to turn it around very quickly. He has good size and is very acrobatic. If he can work on his positioning he could become a force at the next level. Expect him to pick it up and get back to improving on his impressive past season.
Anders Nilsson made his debut in North America after breaking out in the SEL last season. In four games for Bridgeport he has posted a 2.98 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. It is not surprising he has struggled so far because it is tough to transition from the European style of game. He is a huge goaltender at 6’5. He uses his size to his advantage and has great athleticism for his size. Like Poulin, he can catch fire very quickly and still has a ton of upside.
With the emergence of Poulin and Nilsson, Mikko Koskinen has been the odd man out pushed into third string with Bridgeport. He has played just 90 minutes so far this season.
The Islanders have never really had a clear cut number one and have injury plagued Rick DiPietro on the books through the 2020-21 season. Hopefully one of these goaltenders can take hold of that number one spot and not let go when given the chance.
Article was written by Josh Buckingham.