New York Islanders own a bevy of talented young guns at the AHL level

By Josh Buckingham

Casey Cizikas - New York Islanders

Photo: Forward Casey Cizikas is one of several Islanders prospects who has a fair amount of NHL experience. (Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

Due to the NHL lockout, anyone with a two-way contract was able to hone their skills at the AHL level in Bridgeport while they waited for the NHL to resume. This increased the overall level of play in the AHL, which has been good for the overall development of the New York Islanders' prospects.

Now that the lockout has been lifted, the invitees from Bridgeport were a bit surprising to some. The notables that were left off include: Nino Niederreiter, Matt Donovan, and Aaron Ness. The Islanders decided to invite more experienced and older AHL players like Colin McDonald. As the season goes on we will continue to get a better feel on where each prospect stands in the Islander system.

AHL

Nino Niederreiter, LW, 20

Niederreiter was one of those guys that many feel should have been invited to training camp after performing at a point-per-game clip so far this season in Bridgeport. This may end up benefiting him if they were not going to play him in a top six role. He is a big winger that skates very well and is very creative with the puck. He uses his size to protect the puck and on the fore check. He also has slick hands and above average vision for a power forward.

If he continues to dominate at the AHL level it should not be long before he is given a shot in a top six role with the Islanders.

Johan Sundstrom, C, 20

Sundstrom has surprised a lot of people this season with his smooth transition to the North American style of play. He has played in 39 of their 40 games so far this season in Bridgeport scoring 11 goals and assisting on 14 others. He is a big-bodied center that is very responsible in his own end and good in the faceoff circle. He is also not afraid to crash the net and get dirty goals. Overall, he is a very well rounded young prospect.

Sundstrom is best fit to continue developing in Bridgeport before he makes the jump to the NHL level. His ceiling is a second line center, but more likely will end up being a perfect fit as a third line shutdown center with offensive upside.

Brock Nelson, C, 21

Nelson has really settled in nicely at the AHL level this season, but has had to deal with a few injuries most recently a broken jaw. In 30 games in Bridgeport he has buried 11 goals and added 13 helpers for a pretty nice stat line. Nelson is another big-bodied center that the Isles have stockpiled into their prospect pool. He is a very powerful skater and is definitely more of a goal scorer than a playmaker. He has really filled out his frame and has grown a lot stronger, which has helped him become much more responsible in his own zone.

Like Sundstrom, Nelson will continue to develop at the AHL level until he his talents are needed with the Isles. With the depth at center position he may eventually be moved to wing in a top six role with the Islanders.

Casey Cizikas, C/W, 21

Cizikas has proven he can score at the AHL level, in 83 career games in Bridgeport he has posted 66 points. He is a bit undersized, but he makes up for that with his speed and fearlessness. The best part of Cizikas' game is his relentlessness on the forecheck. He is not afraid to throw his body around, which allows him to create a lot of energy on the ice. He can also chip in offensively as he has proven at every level he has competed at.

Cizikas earned a spot on the Islanders third line to start the season and will likely stick with the team for the entire season.  

John Persson, LW, 20

Persson is another youngster that has turned a lot of heads in Bridgeport with his play this season. He has competed in all 40 games and has buried 14 goals, proving that he knows how to finish around the net. He is a big winger that makes his living around the net and creates a lot of space for his linemates. If he is going to be able to score goals at the next level he will need to improve his overall speed. Overall, Persson could prove to be a steal as fifth round draft pick

As the season rolls along he will continue his development in Bridgeport and hopefully pans out to be a big scoring winger in the next few years.

Matt Donovan, D, 22

Many thought that Donovan had the best chance of any blueliner in Bridgeport to start the season with the Isles. Unfortunately he was not invited to camp, but that should not bother him, as he will continue to receive top two minutes in the AHL. In 39 games with Bridgeport he has scored six goals, 14 assists, and appears on his way to another 40 point season. Donovan has a rocket from the point and is capable of quarterbacking the powerplay. He is also not afraid to shy away from the rough stuff as well.

The 22-year-old defenseman could very well end the season with Islanders this year if he continues to play at a high level. He projects to be a top four offensive defensemen with the Isles as early as next year.

David Ullstrom, C/W, 23

Already possessing NHL caliber size and strength, David Ullstrom is a prospect who had a pretty solid 29 game stint with the Islanders last season. After a strong start to the season in the AHL, Ullstrom made the Islanders out of training camp and is currently playing on their third line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. If he can put it all together, he has the potential to become a second line winger due to his scoring touch, but he will most likely end up being a third-liner.

Aaron Ness, D, 22

Ness is another young gun that got a taste of the NHL last season appearing in nine games with the Islanders. He is undersized for a defensemen standing at just 5'10, but makes up for his lack of size with above average skating ability. Ness is a well-rounded defenseman that is not very flashy, but makes very smart plays.

He will continue to play in Bridgeport waiting for his chance with the Isles. He has the potential to be a bottom-pairing defensemen in the near future.

Marc Cantin, D, 22

Cantin came over from Boston in the Brian Rolston/Mike Mottau deal last season and has settled in nicely in Bridgeport. He has dealt with some injury issues this season and is currently on his way back into the lineup. He is never going to light up the score sheet, but he is a very valuable defensive-minded blueliner. It is still is a very long shot that he will ever reach the NHL.

Mike Halmo, LW, 21

Halmo has struggled to put the puck in the net so far this season. He has played in 21 games and has only scored just one goal. Last season playing for the Owen Sound Attack (OHL) he scored 40 goals so he has a history of being a solid goal-scorer.  Hopefully he is able to retain his scoring touch or he will soon be an after thought with the Islanders.

Brandon DeFazio, LW, 24

DeFazio is a tough guy that has put together a pretty solid season thus far. In 34 games he has seven goals and six assists for 13 points compared to 16 points in 66 games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. He is a real tough customer that will never shy away from dropping the mitts to protect a teammate or sway the momentum of the game. He will most likely never be a full-time NHL forward, but guys like him are always useful to have in the organization if the need for an enforcer arises.

Calvin de Haan, D, 21

In just the third game of the season de Haan sustained a shoulder injury that required season ending surgery. Unfortunately he has dealt with injuries his entire career. As of right now the future is unclear for this very talented and highly touted prospect.

Kirill Kabanov, RW/LW, 20

Kabanov sustained a freak injury in just his fourth career AHL game when a skate sliced his hand requiring surgery. He has been skating and hopes to return at some point this season.

Anders Nilsson, G, 22

Nilsson has still not lived up to his lofty expectation this season after posting tremendous numbers last year. His goals against average is just over three goals a game and his save percentage is just under ninety percent. Hopefully this big and very talented netminder is able to put together a hot streak in the near future. Nilsson will most likely remain in Bridgeport for the rest of the season splitting games with fellow prospect Kevin Poulin awaiting a call up. 

Kevin Poulin, G, 22

Poulin has also struggled this season, but he has appeared in five more games than Nilsson. Through 23 starts he has a 3.16 goals against average, a .903 save percentage and one shutout. He is a very competitive goaltender that should be able to turn his season around. Like Nilsson, he will continue to play in Bridgeport awaiting a call up from the big club.

ECHL

Jason Clark, C/W, 20

After two very disappointing seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Clark decided to join Bridgeport to start the season. He played in just four games in Bridgeport before being loaned to the Gwinnett Gladiators (ECHL). At this point Clark appears to be a very long shot to ever play for the Islanders.