New York Islanders boast depth up middle and back end

By Josh Buckingham

Matt Donovan - New York Islanders

Photo: Matt Donovan is one of many talented defensive prospects the New York Islanders have in their system. (Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft proved to be very defensive for the New York Islanders as they shocked the hockey world by selecting a defensemen with each of their seven picks. The move gave them great depth on the blue line, where a team can never have enough bodies. In the previous two drafts they selected two high scoring forwards.   

Overall, they have stockpiled some potential game changers and if everything goes as planned these youngsters should be starring for the team as they move into their new home in Brooklyn.

Left Wing

The lockout could not have come at a better time for struggling winger Nino Niederreiter. After an extremely disappointing campaign last season he seems to have regained his scoring touch playing for the Islander's AHL affiliate Bridgeport. In 30 games he has recorded 30 points, which is considered somewhat of a rebound considering he only scored one goal in 55 games playing in a limited role for the Islanders last season. Niederreiter seems to have settled in nicely on a line centered by fellow fist round pick Brock Nelson. They have created a good connection both on and off the ice, which bodes well for the Islanders moving forward.

Another intriguing youngster playing in Bridgeport is winger Johan Persson, who has hooked up with two fellow Swedish prospects David Ullstrom and Johan Sundstrom to form the "Swede Line". Persson has picked up where he left after posting eight points in 12 games after joining Bridgeport following the conclusion of his junior season. In 31 games this year he has potted 10 goals. His niche is going had to the net and creating havoc. He still needs to work on his skating if he is going to succeed at the NHL level.

Two other prospects honing their skills at the AHL level are Mike Halmo and Brandon DeFazio. The Isles signed Halmo last season after scoring 85 points in 65 games captaining the Owen Sound Attack (OHL). He has struggled to put the puck in the net in Bridgeport only recording fivepoints in 17 games. DeFazio on the other hand has never been known as scorer, but more of a tough guy. If there is a need for an enforcer he should be the first to be called up. 

Center

The Islanders own a bevy of talent at the center position including one of the top overall prospects Ryan Strome. Strome has been on an absolute tear this playing for the Niagara IceDogs (OHL). In 32 games he has scored 22 goals and 40 assists for 62 points, which currently leads the entire OHL. He has really improved his all-round game because a more complete player. His stick handling is second to none allowing him to both score and set up his line mates. If he continues to develop at this rate he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Strome is not the only IceDog enjoying success this season. His teammate Mitchell Theoret is enjoying a breakout offensive season with 40 points in just 33 games after scoring just 21 points in 61 games last season. This most recent success is very intriguing for the Islanders as this seventh rounder could very well turn out to be a steal.

Brock Nelson, who was mentioned earlier, is turning a lot of heads in Bridgeport. He has recorded 11 goals and 11 assists in just 25 games so far this season. He is a power forward prospect who is very strong, tough to knock off the puck. and dominates along the boards and in front of the net. Nelson will continue to develop at the AHL and hopefully will continue to blossom alongside his linemate Niederreiter.

Johan Sundstrom seems to be making a smooth transition to the North American style of play after coming over from Sweden. In 31 games he has potted eight goals and 13 assists. He is a very big center with a very high hockey IQ.

Another center currently playing in Bridgeport is Casey Cizikas. In his brief stint with the Isles last season he mostly played on the wing, but has been moved to center while in Bridgeport. The slick forward has collected 17 points in 25 games so far this season. He is a very crafty forward that experienced some success at the NHL level despite being a bit undersized. He can play many different roles, but his best role is as an energy forward.

After an impressive camp Jason Clark decided to bypass his final two seasons at the University of Wisconsin and sign an entry-level contract with the Islanders. His first two seasons as a Badger were very disappointing posting just two assists. In four games with Bridgeport this year he has two assists, but was sent down to Gwinnett of the ECHL, where he currently has six assists through 10 games.

Anders Lee continues to quietly enjoy success at the University of Notre Dame potting 11 goals in just 18 games this season. He is another big center that is very consistent. He does not have an extremely high ceiling, but his strength and frame bode well for him when he decides to make the jump to the professional level.

Right Wing

This position is most likely the weakest among the Islanders prospect pool.

At the professional level, David Ullstrom is likely the top prospect. Ullstrom has dealt with concussions in his young career and once again has struggled to stay healthy this season. When healthy he has been very effective scoring 16 points in just 20 games. He is a big winger that can play a shutdown third-line role, but can also put the puck in the back of the net. For his size he has great speed and puck handling ability. Hopefully he continues to progress alongside his fellow countrymen.

Kirill Kabanov is another big winger that ran into some tough luck so far this season. In just his fourth game in Bridgeport he suffered a serious wrist injury, which required surgery. As of now there is no timetable for his return, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

Rounding out the position is Kirill Petrov, whose future with the organization remains cloudy. A third-round pick in 2008, Petrov has spent the past five years playing in Russia, mostly for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. He is considered a gifted sniper.

Defense

Griffin Reinhart, son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart, sits atop an extremely deep and talented group of defense prospects. He currently captains the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings and is a returning member on the Canadian WJC team's blue line. Reinhart has the ideal size and tools to become a dominant NHL defenseman.  For his size he is a great skater, which allows him to play a strong two-way game. He makes a great breakout pass and uses his long reach to his advantage. He does need to use his body more and intimidate the opposition. 

The Islanders also have five other prospects competing at the CHL level in Brenden Kichton, Andrey Pedan, Adam Pelech, Jesse Graham, and Loic Leduc. Kitchon is WHL veteran playing in his fifth full season for the Spokane Chiefs. He is an offensive defensemen that will hopefully earn a spot in Bridgeport at the conclusion of his season.

Pedan is building off his first successful season offensively with the Guelph Storm (OHL) recording 25 points in 31 games this season. He is hulking defensemen that has the nastiness to match his offensive prowess.

Pelech may be the most likely to succeed of the bunch due to his fearless play. He is a warrior that is as tough as nails and is a good leader. He has good size and his offensive ability is very underrated.

Graham a teammate of fellow prospects Strome and Theoret is struggling this season. If he does not pick his game up he may be forgotten considering the number of quality defensemen he is competing against.

Lastly, Leduc is also struggling this season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. If he does not improve his skating ability this gigantic defensemen will not be able to make the jump to the next level.

If it were not for the lockout Matt Donovan would have most likely earned a spot on the Islander's blue line. Donovan is an offensive defensemen that loves to jump in the play and using his booming shot to create offense. He is an above average skater and is not afraid to throw his weight around. He makes a great first pass out of the offensive zone and is more than capable of quarterbacking the power play.

Calvin de Haan once again sustained a separated shoulder that ended his season after just three games. He has battled injuries on both of his shoulders his whole career and this may be the final straw. Hopefully he is able to come back strong next season because he has the potential to become a very dependable NHL defensemen.

Aaron Ness and Marc Cantin round out the defensive depth at the AHL level. Ness is more of a two-way puck-moving defenseman while Cantin is of the stay-at-home variety.

Ville Pokka is a defensive prospect who is currently competing overseas for Kärpät in the SM-liiga, which is Finland's top league. This season he has taken on a much bigger role and is logging a lot more minutes. He has already recorded eight points in just 25 games as opposed to just three in 35 games last season. It will be very exciting to see how he performs playing for his native Finland in the 2013 WJC. He is not the biggest defensemen, but he has great vision allowing him to move the puck with ease. He plays with a ton of confidence and loves to jump into the play. Pokka has a very high offensive ceiling and should continue to improve with more experience.

The Islander's have two very solid prospects currently playing at the collegiate level in Scott Mayfield and Robbie Russo. Mayfield is enjoying another successful season at the University of Denver making opponents lives miserable. He is a nasty defensemen that plays a rugged game. He loves the throw his big frame around and crush opposing players.

Russo on the other hand is displaying a scoring touch at the University of Notre Dame. He has already matched his point told of 15 points in 41 games his freshmen in just 18 games so far this season. Russo is not the tallest defensemen, but he is very solid. He is a relentless defensemen and has very good leadership qualities.

At the USHL level, Jake Bischoff is playing for the Omaha Lancers. Bischoff has appeared in only one game this season. He is scheduled to join the University of Minnesota in 2014-15.

Doyle Somerby is another project defensive prospect who was drafted in 2012. Somerby is currently playing his senior season at Kimball Union Academy. He is scheduled to attend Boston University in 2013-14.

Goaltending

Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson have picked up where they dropped off last season splitting games in Bridgeport, but they have not been nearly as good as they were last season. After both posted stellar seasons in 2011-12, there were high hopes coming into this season. Unfortunately they both have not lived up to expectations.

Nilsson is a hulking goaltender that uses his size to challenge opposing shooters and plays with a very calm demeanor. Poulin is average size for a net minder and is much more aggressive than Nilsson and plays with much more flare in his game. It will be very interesting to see how this goaltending battle pans out.

Mikko Koskinen is another gigantic goaltender that left Bridgeport for his home country of Finland last year after being the odd man out. If he returns to the North America it is not known where he stands on the depth chart.

Cody Rosen is currently backing up at Clarkson University and does not appear to be a legitimate prospect moving forward.