Islanders Hockey’s Future Player Rankings:
Today we start with the top five players in the Islanders Organization.
We look into why they were ranked where they were and what should be expected from them in the future.
Rick DiPietro # 1:
DiPietro is the Islanders number one prospect in the organization because of his draft status and potential. The goaltending issue was decided for the Islanders at the trade deadline, however one reason the Islanders felt DiPietro was ready is based on how impressive he performed when he was called up and how he did not look out of place against National Hockey League competition or in pressure situations.
One thing that stands out now is an ability to recover from slow starts in games and shake off bad goals or mistakes.
What is clear is the experience with the Sound Tigers over the last two seasons has taught him to play more in control and there is a maturity in his game that was not there in his rookie season with the Islanders or a good part of his first season with Bridgeport.
Rick still tends to over handle the puck and seems a little nervous at times, but this is a much more mature player who got to play a lot of hockey last season with almost ninety starts, after a rookie season where he was on three teams and also participated in both the WJC and the World Championships.
The Islanders and the fans will have to live with some growing pains but they have something here that is part of the answer in goal as DiPietro starts to adjust to life as a full-time NHL goal tender next season. It will be very interesting to see how he reacts to some big-time pressure in the final weeks of the season and perhaps the NHL playoffs.
Justin Papineau # 2:
Papineau should be a name familiar to many Islander fans, he was one of the players who was part of the Zigmund Palffy trade rejected by the NHL in the summer of 1999 with the Kings. Like another former Islander, Mike Rupp, he re-entered the draft and was taken in the second rd by the St.Louis Blues in June 2000.
He is ranked second here because of his goal-scoring ability in an organization where there are few pure goal-scorers and play makers combining his ability with speed. Clearly he has caught the attention of Islander fans who have been watching his early games with Bridgeport, where he has worked well with Trent Hunter and has seven goals in his first five games.
Mike Milbury made an interesting trade in dealing for Papineau. He is not what can be called a young prospect at age twenty three, his defensive game and his toughness need to be improved, and he is a center on a team that is deep at the position and has Justin Mapletoft.
The Blues have depth at the NHL level and could afford to be more patient with Papineau. Since the trade deadline the Islanders no longer have much NHL depth and even with all forwards healthy, there is a good chance the Islanders may have to give Papineau (a left-handed shot) a look this season.
Trent Hunter # 3
Hunter gets the ranking as the Islanders number three prospect in the organization because he has grown into a true power forward with the Tigers over the last two seasons. A tough call ranking someone third who was a sixth round pick of Anaheim in 1998, but it’s well earned considering how he has grown into a player who made the decision easy for Bridgeport to make him their top right wing mid way thru last season.
Hunter, listed at 6-3, has tremendous hands, is a gifted goal scorer, and is a solid defensive forward. He plays a rugged up and down game and is virtually unstoppable down low with has combination if size and soft scoring touch. He was also named to the American Hockey League All-Star team and left a very good impression on Islander fans in the playoffs last season and in the Tigers run to the Calder Cup Finals.
One problem for Hunter could well be the Islanders basically cleared the way for him last summer. He did not come into camp ready and did not win a spot many felt was his to lose. On a team where several prospects have gotten several call ups since the season started he has not made enough of an impression with the Isles. Another potential problem for Hunter is that there are few openings on right wing at this time. He may see time as a depth call up, but for now it’s tough to say where he fits the puzzle unless another spot is opened for him, he has the skills and ability to force the Islanders to find a spot for him.
Justin Mapletoft # 4
Mapletoft, has been nothing short of a steal for Mike Milbury in the fifth rd of the 1999 draft. Justin is ranked fourth here because how quickly he has appeared on the NHL radar for the Islanders and because of his MVP season in the WHL. There is a maturity about Mapletoft’s game that makes him look like he belongs in the NHL. With the trade of Claude Lapointe at the deadline, there is a good chance he will get that chance full-time next season. He has already been called up once since the deadline and had a goal in his only game vs Edmonton after an impressive camp and call up earlier in the season where he had his first NHL goal.
Mapletoft is an excellent puck handler with intelligent hockey sense, a very crafty pivot who is smart around the net. He uses his wingers effectively and gives soft passes to team mates. He is very dangerous in low slot and has a great snap shot with a quick release. Also, Justin possesses great acceleration and cycles puck down low with poise. He is a solid two way player who went to Bridgeport and decided to commit himself to learn the defensive game. His plus/minus has been excellent with the Tigers both seasons, his scoring increased toward the later half of his rookie season.
Mapletoft’s downside is he needs to continue to put up points. His numbers did drop off from late last season with the Tigers when he was sent back to the Tigers earlier this season. In the long run the question for Mike Milbury is do you want him in a fourth line role as center or a move to a wing where he can see time on the top lines ?
Sean Bergenheim # 5
Bergenheim checks in at number five on our list of Islander prospects. The reason he is ranked fifth here is because he was considered the fastest player in the 2002 draft. He also made a standout impression at the WJC and was one of Finland’s leading scorers in the tournament.
It’s going to take some time for Bergenheim, he plays with an excellent Jokerit team and in a league where the players are older than him, it’s not easy to find playing time and he has been a healthy scratch in games. His season stats almost match his stats in the WJC, but as he gets more seasoning and more game responsibility his numbers should also improve.
Next up # 6-10