2002 Islanders Prospect Wrap-up and Primer

By Joe Muccia
Well the pre-season is steam-rolling right along into the last two games for Islanders prospects and training camp hopefuls. For Islander fans it’s beginning to get a little tense. Coach Peter Laviolette has not made many cuts yet and the waiver draft will be occurring on Friday Sept. 28th. Islander faithful are waiting to hear if Mike Milbury will use the first pick to choose Chris Osgood, who was left unprotected by the Red Wings, or if he tries to fill the enforcer position that seems to be open. Suffice it to say Isles fans have a couple of interesting days ahead.

Defense
Dick Tarnstrom – From the beginning of camp and through the first Blue/White Battle, Tarnstrom was paired with Roman Hamrlik. For the sequel, he was paired with Eric Cairns. Early indications are that Tarnstrom came to camp in excellent shape and has played sound 2-way hockey. He has shown his ability to take a hit when Brad Isbister flattened him during the Second Blue/White Battle. It did seem during the actual pre-season games that he got into some penalty trouble, but he is a quick study and is learning what North American referees are looking for.

For the three pre-season games he played in, he was paired with Jonsson, Mezei and Martinek, in that order. Tarnstrom is neither flashy nor is he mistake prone. He is solid in his own end and takes care of business. He also showed his offensive side scoring a goal against New Jersey on Sept. 23rd. Out of the many defensemen in camp, he probably has the best chance for the seventh spot.

Radek Martinek – Before training camp started, many people stated that Martinek, based on his fine showing at the World’s, had the best chance to make the Isles out of all of their defensive prospects (except Mezei). Well, Martinek has not fallen on his face, but he has not blown anyone away with his play. In camp, Martinek has played inconsistently. He has played timid at times and other times too aggressive. When too aggressive, he is pinching at the wrong times. Some of his problems could be linked to the fact he has no command of the English language, he may not understand what teammates are telling him.

Early in camp the young Czech was paired with Evgeny Korolev, later for the Blue/White Battles he was teamed with Kenny Jonsson and Marko Kiprusoff. Martinek is the only Islanders defensive prospect to play in all four pre-season games. This may be because the staff is taking a long look at him before they make any decisions. He has been paired with (from first game to fourth): Cairns, Sutton, Tarnstrom and Hamrlik.

Marko Kiprusoff – The smooth skating offensive defenseman’s puckskills have been on display from day one of camp. During training camp and Blue/White Battles, Kiprusoff has been paired with Adrian Aucoin (until he was injured) and then Kevin Haller (who is also now injured). Kiprusoff did tally a power-play goal in the 5-5 tie with Philadelphia. During the first two exhibition games he played in, Kiprusoff was paired with Ray Schultz and Eric Cairns respectively. In the 6-5 loss to the Devils, he was paired with no partner in particular. His fine offensive showing in pre-season has hidden the fact that Kiprusoff can easily be taken out of “his” game with physical play. Look for him to be called up if the Isles PP falters early.

Ray Giroux – Although his play in camp has been solid and he is obviously a much more well-rounded player after playing in the Finnish Elite League, Giroux appears to have lost his “spot in line” on the Isles defensive depth chart. Paired with newcomer Ken Sutton at the beginning of camp, Ray was paired with Hamrlik for the Second Blue/White Battle. Even though he has had a solid camp, his play has been overshadowed by Tarnstrom and Kiprusoff’s play. Giroux has not dressed for any Islander pre-season games at this time. Look for Ray to start the year in Bridgeport.

Evgeny Korolev – Korolev has added some bulk to his frame and has played well in camp. He, like Tarnstrom is not flashy (he is also not as skilled as Tarnstrom) and has played within his limits. He has been paired with Radek Martinek in camp and for the Blue/White Battles he has played with Sutton and Schultz. Korolev will be a solid defenseman for Bridgeport, he will only be called to Long Island for injury fill-in.

Ray Schultz – The “Sarge” has come to camp and displayed his usual intensity and propensity for fisticuffs. He has fought with Graham Belak and has engaged in the usual pushing matches that go with his brand of hockey. He has been paired with different partners throughout training camp and during Blue/White Battles has been paired with Branislav Mezei and Evgeny Korolev. Schultz also dressed for the 5-5 tie with the Flyers.
Schultz should start the season in Bridgeport and like Korolev, will only be called up in emergency.

Branislav Mezei – From all accounts, Mezei has not been effective in this year’s camp. During camp he was paired with Haller (until he injured himself). Later for the Blue/White Battles he was paired with Schultz and Chris Armstrong. Mezei did play in the first two exhibition games, the first paired with Hamrlik and the second paired with Tarnstrom. Mezei has done nothing to stand out. A telling fact that he may start the season in Bridgeport is that the day of the fourth exhibition game, Mezei was assigned to the “B” squad (essentially the SoundTigers) to play against the Albany River Rats. If I were Mezei, I would not take that as a good sign.

Other defensemen who attended training camp were: Chris Armstrong, Daniel Bergeron and Ray Schultz. None of the three distinguished themselves in anyway. Bergeron was returned to his junior team. Schultz did fight Graham Belak during the First Blue/White Battle.

Forwards
Raffi Torres – Compared to last years camp, Torres has been very quiet. He has been using his big frame to screen the goalies, but not for much else. During camp and the Blue/White Battles, Peca and Jason Krog have centered Torres exclusively. In the 4-3 loss to the Devils, Torres played on a line with Mats Lindgren and Steve Webb and by all accounts the line was a non-factor. Somebody must have lit a fire under Raffi for the second exhibition game because he came out with purpose. Lined up with Peca and Isbister, Torres was out wreaking havoc all game long. His hard work in the Philly zone led directly to two (on one he got the primary assist) Islander goals. Even after that impressive game, Torres has not suited up for the latest two games. He did suit up for the Bridgeport SoundTigers the day of the 6-5 matinee loss to the Devils. Because of his unimpressive camp Torres will most likely start the season in Bridgeport.

Alexander Kharitonov – Coming to camp as an afterthought in the Aucoin/Biron trade, Kharitonov has made quite an impression. Isles Head Coach Peter Laviolette has described him as a “water bug” on the ice. He has played an aggressive in your face style that has caused turnovers and passes to be rushed. Kharitonov has played both right wing and left wing throughout camp, scrimmages and exhibition games. Although his center has changed often, he has been, almost exclusively, playing with either Isbister or Mark Parrish on the opposite wing. He also scored a goal against the Flyers on a pretty behind the cage feed from Oleg Kvasha (his center that game). With less than a minute left in the game Kharitonov and Kvasha came down on a two on one and even though they had a great give and go, they were unable to steal a win for the Isles. In a perplexing move, Kharitonov has been left unprotected for the waiver draft. With him making only a $450,000 a year, a team like Atlanta, that is looking for speed and skill will probably pick up him up.

Graham Belak – Belak was a late off-season free agent signee. The former Avalanche draft pick came to camp with his eyes on an enforcer spot and has done nothing to hurt his chances. He fought Eric Cairns to a standstill and won a decision over Ray Schultz. He hasn’t fought Webb or Dave Roche and with time ticking down on the pre-season, he probably won’t. Originally drafted as a defenseman, Belak has been used exclusively as a forward in camp. He hasn’t lined up with any Islander regulars in camp and only dressed for a game (4-2 victory against the Rangers). Belak is ticketed for Bridgeport, but don’t be suprised to see him on Long Island if Steve Webb gets injured or the Isles play a team that dresses more than one enforcer (like the Flyers or Rangers).

Jason Krog – Came to camp as one of the best-conditioned players on the team. Krog worked in the off-season to improve his skating. He played undistinguished hockey during camp but upped his play during the exhibition games including notching an assist with a beautiful pass that sprung Juraj Kolnik for a breakaway goal against the Flyers. Krog later suited up for the SoundTigers in a game against the Albany River Rats and tallied a goal. Krog has been left unprotected for the waiver draft.

Shawn Bates – Bates has come to camp like a man on a mission, hell-bent on impressing his former coach from Providence. He is one of the fastest players in camp and has shown impressive puck skills, shooting accuracy and defensive play. Bates has lined up in every position with every type of linemate. Coach Laviolette must be trying to figure what situations are best suited for Bates’ talents. If he stays healthy and keeps up the Jason Blake/Claude Lapointe-like work ethic, Bates could start the year on Long Island forming a very good 2-way line with Lindgren and Blake.

Justin Mapletoft – Initially was very impressive in camp. Mapletoft came to camp in excellent shape and has really improved in taking face-offs. During camp and scrimmages, he has centered for Kharitonov and Parrish the majority of the time. He also dressed for the 5-5 tie against the Flyers but did not factor in the scoring. Later in the week, Mapletoft traveled with the Isles “B” squad and dressed for Bridgeport against Albany (a probable precursor of things to come). Look for Mapletoft to start the year in Bridgeport.

Players such as Marko Tuomainen, Trent Hunter, Dave Roche, Ben Guite, Jason Podollan and David Nemirovsky attended camp and for the most part, did not distinguish themselves. Most have played for already or will play for Bridgeport in the future. It doesn’t appear that any will make the Islanders. Trent Hunter did come to camp in excellent shape and has improved his skating by leaps and bounds. Juraj Kolnik had an excellent camp and scored 3 goals in exhibition play. With his sniper-like ability and improved skating and defensive play, he is making a strong case to stay on Long Island.

Goaltenders
Dusan Salficky
– Salficky has come to camp with his trademark flexibility and surprisingly good English. What he hasn’t done is blow away the competition with his play so far. In his defense, he hasn’t seen a ton of shots but he still isn’t going to be mistaken for Roman Cechmanek any time soon. He gave up 5 goals on 26 shots against Philly and later got the win in a SoundTiger victory over Albany. Look for Salficky to start the season in Bridgeport (unless he heads back to Czech.). He needs more seasoning in order to get used to North American hockey.

Steve Valiquette – “Big Valley” was sharp all throughout camp. He even posted a shutout (with Garth Snow playing the final 20 minutes) in the second Blue/White Battle. He hasn’t dressed for any of the exhibition games until recently. He did not look good at all and absorbed the loss in a game vs. ECHL opponents. He seemed shaky and hesitant. He’ll end up in Bridgeport unless the Isles draft Osgood in the waiver draft. If that occurs “Big Valley” will slip even further down the depth chart.

Both David St. Germain and Andy Chiodo attended training camp. Both spent considerable time working with goaltending coach Billy Smith. Chiodo was returned to his junior team. Expect to see St. Germain assigned to Trenton due to the glut of goaltenders in the Isles organization (especially those that are earmarked for Bridgeport).

Final Thoughts

Some players came to camp believing their own hype. Many of these must have thought that they were virtually guarenteed a roster spot. Now that the Islanders have a full stable of NHL caliber players this just isn’t the case. Players have to realize they are going to have to work hard to make this team. Kudos to bubble players like Shawn Bates, Alexander Kharitonov and Juraj Kolnik, who came in and had great camps. If there is an open spot, among the forwards, look for one of those players to get it.
On defense, players like Tarnstrom and Kiprusoff have made strong cases for a roster spot. Mezei, who did not play well in camp, probably played himself right off the Isles opening night roster and right onto Bridgeport’s. Isles defensive depth will look like this:
Hamrlik, Jonsson, Aucoin, Haller, Cairns, Sutton and Tarnstrom or Mezei. This will change if either Haller or Aucoin aren’t ready for the season opener and if Sutton is taken in the waiver draft.