Years of stockpiling high draft picks has started to pay off for the Islanders, something that is demonstrated in the inaugural edition of their prospect awards.
There was no clear-cut winner for any award, though some may have been more obvious than others. Some prospects to keep an eye on for next year that did not receive an award include: Calvin de Haan, Andres Nilsson, Scott Mayfield, Anders Lee, Johan Sundstrom, Kirill Petrov, and Robbie Russo. If this deep prospect core continues to develop the future is very bright on the Island.
Most Improved Prospect: Brock Nelson, C, University of North Dakota (WCHA)
Nelson followed a very solid 2010-11 freshman campaign in which he recorded 21 points in 42 games with an offensive explosion in his sophomore year, scoring 47 points in the same amount of games. Following his breakout season this year he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Islanders and joined Bridgeport to conclude the year. Nelson improved every area of his game this season. He really came into his own as a strong power forward and finally found a nose for the net. He should start next season on the Islanders opening night roster and has a great shot of sticking for the whole season.
Best Defensive Prospect: Matt Donovan, D, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)
This was definitely the toughest decision to make among all of the awards, as it was neck and neck with fellow prospect Calvin de Haan. Donovan had a great season offensively, posting 45 points in 72 games to lead all Tigers defensemen. For his stellar play down in Bridgeport he was rewarded with a roster spot in the Islanders final three games of the season. He settled in nicely and received a good amount of power play ice time. This could be a sign that he has the inside track on one of the open blue line spots for next season.
Best Offensive Prospect: Ryan Strome, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
The Islanders made the right decision to send Strome back to Niagara for some extra seasoning before making the jump to either Bridgeport or the Islanders. This year he only played in 46 regular season games due to a few injuries, thankfully none of those seem to be chronic injuries like those of Calvin de Haan. He scored 30 goals in those 46 games, which is just three less than he scored in 19 fewer games the season before. Strome has always been more of a playmaker, but this season he showed flashes of becoming a pure goal scorer. He has an unbelievable set of hands that make the puck look like it's glued to his stick. On the other hand, his shot has improved a lot and his release has become much quicker.
Prospect of the Year: Ryan Strome, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
This was another very easy decision as Strome showed a lot of improvement this season and was dominant at the World Junior Championships representing his native country of Canada. Serving as the WJC squad's first-line center, he posted nine points in just six games. He looked like a man amongst boys for most of the tournament and proved that he raises his game with great players around him. Though the Team Canada squad fell short of their annual goal of winning the gold, Strome was a bright spot among a very deep and talented crop of players.
Fastest Skater: Casey Cizikas, F, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)
Cizikas surprised a lot of people this season by lighting up the AHL level with his blazing speed. Throughout his young career he has played all forward positions, but due to his lack of size he played mostly on the wing in his first full professional season. This move really showcased his speed, as he was able to use it to bust wide on defenders and on the forecheck. During his 15-game stint with the Islanders his speed is what really helped him to hold his own as he was sometimes pushed around by bigger defensemen. This speed should help him as he fights for a full-time spot on the Islanders roster next season.
Hardest Shot: Matt Donovan, D, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)
Donovan potted 10 goals for Bridgeport this season, including two scored on the man advantage. In order to score 10 goals as a defensemen at this level you must have a cannon from the point. Donovan is not afraid to let it go either as he recorded 119 shots this season. When he is able to get all 200 pounds of his frame behind a shot it has the ability to reach the high 90 mile-per-hour range. Look for him to potentially anchor the power play alongside Isles captain Mark Streit next season.
Overachiever: Casey Cizikas, F, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)
When this season started nobody expected Cizikas to be a nearly point-per-game producer at the AHL level. He recorded 44 points in just 52 games for the Tigers this past season. Not only did he do this, but he played 15 games for the Islanders as well. In those 15 games he assisted on four tallies, which is very impressive given his limited minutes. In his time with the big club he did not look overmatched at all and used his speed to dominate on the forecheck. He also showed a little bit of chemistry with top prospect Nino Niederreiter. If he is paired with the right linemates next season he will be very successful.
Underachiever: Nino Niederreiter, LW, New York Islanders
One goal in 55 games is most definitely not what the Islanders expected when they drafted this talented winger with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft. This past season there were no positives for this young prospect. He suffered from multiple injuries and just really couldn't get anything going at all this season. What really hurt him was that he was not given much ice time at all and was usually given less than ten minutes per game. When a player is given that little ice time it is really hard to get his legs moving and involved in the game. On the bright side of things, when he was paired with talented linemates he looked a lot more comfortable than when he was in a grinding role on the fourth line.
Highest Risk/Reward: Kirill Kabanov, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
An extremely gifted Russian winger who has made some mind-boggling decisions in his young career, Kabanov has come along way since he was drafted 65th overall in 2010. There is no doubt he has an amazing skill set, but he definitely still has some maturing to do. A promising sign for him is that he has signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Isles and has packed a good twenty pounds onto his lengthy frame. He should be given a good shot to make the Islanders opening night roster next season and could provide some much needed scoring depth.
Breakout for 2012-2013: Brock Nelson, C, University of North Dakota (WCHA)
This was another very tough decision, but Nelson is definitely going to turn some heads next year as his success has somewhat flown under the radar, and has been overshadowed by that of Ryan Strome. Nelson has an NHL-ready body, much like that of Chris Kreider (NYR). Though he does not have the speed Kreider possesses, he could make a similarly immediate impact. Nelson also has the ability to play both wing and center, which should bode well for both he and the Islanders. Time will only tell whether he is able to make a splash next season with the Isles.