Loads of talent playing for New York Islanders’ minor-league affiliate

By HF Staff
Photo: In his rookie pro season, Calvin de Haan has proved to be an effective puck-moving defenseman. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With a record of 19-17-3-1, The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have been something of a disappointment so far this season, but there is no doubt there is a lot of young talent developing at the AHL level. Numerous prospects have appeared in both a games with the Tigers and the Islanders, including David Ullstrom, Calvin de Haan, Nino Niederreiter, Anders Nilsson, and Kevin Poulin.

The Tigers have also had to deal with their fare share of adversity with injuries to a few key components such as Rakhshani, Ullstrom, and Justin DiBenedetto.

AHL

Casey Cizikas, C, 20

Cizikas has been a huge surprise so far this season. He has appeared in all 40 games and is leading the team in points with 28. He has proven to be very versatile as well playing well at both center and wing. What is most impressive about his game thus far is he is a plus-14, which leads the team.

Thus far Cizikas has proven himself to be a real find as fourth rounder in the 2009 NHL draft. His size and versatility make him a very valuable asset to the Islanders. He is not going to blow you away with his physical ability, but he is a very smart player. His vision is very good and he moves the puck very well. If he continues to improve at the AHL level he could very well earn himself a spot on the Islanders opening season roster as early as next year.

Rhett Rakhshani, RW, 23

Rakhshani has played very well since returning from an early season concussion. He has played in 23 games since returning to the lineup and has posted 21 points.
Though size has been a huge downside for him in his career, he has good offensive skills and upside, as well as great speed and great acceleration. He also has excellent vision and hands. Expect Rakhshani to continue to develop into a top-six threat, with the hope of cracking the Isles roster full time next season.

Matt Donovan, D, 21

Donovan is playing in his first full season with Bridgeport. At the end of last season he decided to bypass his final two years with the University of Denver after a stellar sophomore season. In six games last season he set the bar very high for himself after posting five points in those games. In 39 games so far this season he has posted 22 points.

For being an offensive-minded defenseman he has great size. He is built like a rock, and has a great shot from the point. Though he weighs 200 pounds, he has never been known as physical player, but uses his long reach to his advantage. Speed has always been a problem for him, but he remains a mobile skater. With more experience in Bridgeport he has the chance to be a very serviceable puck-moving defenseman for the Islanders, in a mold similar to Pittsburgh Penguin Paul Martin.


David Ullstrom, LW, 22

Ullstrom was having a great season until he sustained a concussion. He began the season down in Bridgeport, but after scoring 12 goals in 17 games he was called up to the Islanders. Despite his concussion he still remains with the Islanders. In 14 games he scored two goals and set up two others. To go along with four points he was a plus one, which is very impressive. Since returning, Ullstrom has appeared in three more games in the AHL, posting two goals.

He has great size at 6’3 and has really filled out his frame well. He loves to use that frame to his advantage and is not afraid to throw it around. He has great speed for his size as well. Given his size and skill set he is an ideal bottom six forward with offensive upside.

Justin DiBenedetto, LW, 23

After a breakout season last year with Bridgeport he picked up right where left off before injury struck. He posted 14 points in the first 21 games of the season before sustaining a concussion. On the bright side he has begun skating again and is close to returning.

Much like many of the other prospects DiBenedetto has ton of offensive upside, and the size to hold his own in the NHL. In eight games last season with the Islanders he had decent success playing mostly on the fourth-line. There is no doubt that he has the size and skills to succeed with Islanders and a call up could be in the near future.

Tyler McNeely, F, 24

McNeely has been a disappointment so far this season after putting up 11 points in 10 games last season with Bridgeport. In 38 games he has just 10 points this season. That is a huge step back considering he was scoring at over a point per game pace last season. He lacks size at just 5’10 and is not know for his defensive prowess. Hehas a long way to go in terms of development if he wants to be considered for an NHL call-up.

Sean Backman, RW, 25

Since signing as a two-way contract this offseason he has not performed the way Bridgeport had hoped for. After posting decent numbers with the Texas Stars (AHL) in 2010-11, he has not shown any improvement since joining Bridgeport. So far this season he has only seven points in 36 games. Considering his lack of size and offensive production, Backman seems like a longshot at this point to be a viable NHL prospect.

Aaron Ness, D, 21

Like Donovan, Ness decided to leave college early after playing three seasons with the University of Minnesota. He has played in all 40 games this season and has shown some offensive upside posting 15 points.

Ness is not gifted with size, but he has great offensive instincts. He is very intelligent and has great vision. To go along with that he has outstanding speed and slick hands. If he can improve his angles and tenacity he has a great chance of making the Islanders in the next few years.

Calvin de Haan, D, 20

Calvin de Haan is one of the five players who have appeared in a game with the Islanders this season. It was just one game, but he was very impressive playing just over 13 minutes and posting a plus-one. At the AHL level he has been equally as impressive.

He has proven that he is definitely the Islanders’ number one defensive prospect. His offensive upside is outstanding. He makes an excellent first pass and is great at anchoring the power play. He has great feet as well. He has only nine points through 32 games, but that is not an accurate reflection of the solid puck-moving presence he provides along the blue line. With a little more seasoning in the AHL he should be ready to start the season with Islanders as early as next year.

Tomas Marcinko, RW, 23

Marcinko is playing in his fourth season with Bridgeport. He has never been an offensive threat as his career high in goals is just four, which he has in 34 games this season. He does posses good size at 6’4, which bodes well for him as he is a shut down forward. At this point it is very unlikely if he ever makes the Islanders roster.

Ty Wishart , D, 23

Wishart has been a disappointment much of his career after being selected 16th overall in 2006 by San Jose. This season he has not shown any improvement and it appears he has been passed on the depth chart by younger players such as Donovan and de Haan. He does have great size, but he does not have the speed to succeed at the next level.

Anton Klementyev, D, 21

Klementyev has been a huge disappointment this season, managing only one assist through 20 games. He was recently sent to the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL but has yet to report. Because he failed to report, he has been suspended indefinitely.

Anders Nilsson, G, 21

Nilsson has had some trouble adapting to hockey in North America. He has posted average stats in Bridgeport playing in just 12 games with a .902 save percentage. He would’ve seen more starts early on but was recalled to the NHL for an extended stretch, appearing in two games and spending even more time as a health scratch. Nilsson has since been returned to the AHL where he has appeared in three more games. Through 15 AHL starts he has a 8-6-1 record, a 2.93 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage.

It is not surprising he has struggled a little bit since the transition to the North American style of hockey is very tough. He still possesses great size and is very agile for being 6’5. He does need to work on his positioning for such a massive goaltender. His upside is second to none and he has established himself as the Islanders’ goalie of the future.

Kevin Poulin, G, 21

During the stretch in which Nilsson was recalled to the NHL, Kevin Poulin took the starting reins for Bridgeport. He has done a respectable job, but has not lived up to his high expectations. He played in 23 games posting a 2.77 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. He has ideal size for a goaltender and is extremely competitive. Along with his high compete level is great athleticism. If he continues to gain experience he could earn himself a position as low-end starter or very capable backup within a year or two.

Poulin was recently recalled to the NHL where he has appeared in one game so far this season, allowing three goals in just under 60 minutes of play.

Mikko Koskinen, G, 23

Koskinen was the odd man out in a very deep goaltending position in Bridgeport. After appearing in just three games he decided to return to Finland to play for Kalevan Pallo in the SM-liiga, which is the top league in Finland. In his 14 starts in Finland, Koskinen has a 1.74 goals against average, a .937 save percentage and a 8-3-2 record.

Article was written by Josh Buckingham.

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