Islanders AHL prospects season review

By Jonathan Litterine

While 2005-06 was a down year for the New York Islanders, many of their top prospects had very solid seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and look like they are in a position to help the NHL team in the near future. Due to many trades and injuries, a lot of players who spent time on the Sound Tigers also spent time in the NHL this season. Overall, the Sound Tigers finished as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and took the top seed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a Game 7 before falling.

Help should be on the way for the Islanders both up front and on defense. With the Sound Tigers in 2005-06, players like Jeremy Colliton, Robert Nilsson and Sean Bergenheim led the offense, while Bruno Gervais anchored the defense. All four of those players and many others shuttled between Bridgeport and Long Island this season.

Goaltenders

None of the goalies who played for Bridgeport in 2005-06 can be considered a prospect. For the third straight season 27-year-old Wade Dubielewicz was in net for the Sound Tigers. He played in 46 games. Chris Madden, Frederic Cloutier and Cody Rudkowsky also saw time in net for Bridgeport. Garth Snow also made one rehab start with the Sound Tigers while working his way back from an injury. The Islanders will need to acquire a young goalie to keep the pipeline flowing.

Defense

Bruno Gervais was among the league leaders in scoring among defensemen in the AHL this season, despite playing only 55 games. He had 41 points, including 16 goals. Quite a jump from the 30 points in 76 games a year earlier. Gervais got lots of power play time and played for the Canadian All-Stars in the AHL All-Star Classic. Gervais played 27 games with the Islanders and had three goals and four assists for seven points. He made his NHL debut in a Dec. 4 win over the Red Wings and scored his first NHL goal on March 19 against Tampa Bay. Late in the season after the Islanders made many trades and Alexei Zhitnik’s injury, Gervais was always among the Islanders ice time leaders each game. Gervais made great strides in his second pro season, and is certainly in line for a job on Long Island next season.

When Ryan Caldwell first came out of the University of Denver, at the time he was probably considered the Islanders’ top prospect on defense. Since then while Caldwell has played a steady game, but he hasn’t shown the tremendous upside many thought he had coming out of college. Caldwell had 15 points in 61 games for Bridgeport this season, and the 38 penalty minutes shows the 6’3 Caldwell doesn’t spend much time in the penalty box. Caldwell finally made his NHL debut late in the season and got into two games with the Islanders. With many prospects having passed him on the depth chart, Caldwell is likely to at least start next season back in Bridgeport.

When the Islanders had their fire sale at the 2006 trading deadline, they were able to acquire two top prospects from the Kings in exchange for Brent Sopel and Mark Parrish. One of those prospects was Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who was in the middle of his third season in the AHL. Grebeshkov, a former first round pick of the Kings in 2002, always had good offensive numbers during his time with the Manchester Monarchs, his best season was 49 points in 75 games during 2004-05. Right after the trade occurred, Grebeshkov was assigned to the Islanders where he played the rest of the season. In the final 21 games with the Islanders, Grebeshkov had three assists. He was returned to the AHL for the playoffs and in the seven-game series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Grebeshkov had one goal and one assist. The Islanders are very high on Grebeshkov and he should certainly have a job with the Islanders when NHL play resumes in October.

Another prospect who got his first taste of pro hockey this year was 2005 second round pick Dustin Kohn. Kohn got into two games with the Sound Tigers after his junior team’s season in Brandon of the WHL ended. Kohn will likely return to Brandon next season.

Forwards

The first pro season for Jeremy Colliton was a rousing success. Colliton, a former second round pick, finished with 53 points in 62 AHL games this season, including 21 goals. The 21-year-old Colliton also played 19 games with the Islanders and had a goal and a assist. His first NHL goal came on April 15 in an exciting 5-4 win over the Penguins. While being a good scorer, Colliton is also known for his defensive play and being very good on faceoffs. Colliton had more points this season in the AHL than he did in any season of junior hockey. It is possible Colliton will be in the AHL next season, but he certainly will have a shot to win a full-time spot at training camp with the Islanders.

At 5’11 and 200 pounds, Sean Bergenheim is a player who should benefit from the new rules in the NHL. Bergenheim was up and down between the NHL and AHL in 2005-06, and put together a pretty solid showing in both leagues once he got going. Bergenheim, a forward who works off his great speed, had 25 goals in only 55 AHL games. He finished with 47 total points in those 55 games. In 28 games in the NHL, Bergenheim had a respectable nine points, four of them goals. Late in the season Bergenheim spent time on the Islanders’ top line with Alexei Yashin and showed good touch around the net. He brings so much energy that he should have an NHL job next season.

Robert Nilsson started the season on the Islanders No. 1 line with Alexei Yashin and Miroslav Satan, but eventually he was playing on the fourth line and the Islanders decided he would be better off playing more minutes in the AHL. In 29 AHL games, Nilsson showed his great skill level and had 28 points. Nilsson was eventually recalled and late in the season, got to play a lot more. He ended up with six goals and 20 points in 53 games. Despite only being 21 years old, Nilsson might have the highest skill level of all the Islanders. He should make the Islanders for good next season and be a fantastic scorer for many years.

Jeff Tambellini came over with Denis Grebeshkov from the Kings at the trade deadline, and just like Grebeshkov, he was assigned directly to the Islanders. After spending the first half of the season with Manchester, where he had 56 points in 56 games including 25 goals, Tambellini spent the final 21 games with the Islanders. Tambellini only had one goal and four points in those 21 games. Yet he will never forget his first NHL goal, as it came on March 14 against Martin Brodeur and the Devils. Tambellini returned to the AHL and played with the Sound Tigers in the playoffs and had three points in the seven playoff games. Tambellini has a great shot of making the Islanders next year.

After both of their junior seasons ended, both Ryan O’Marra and Blake Comeau joined the Sound Tigers. O’Marra was very good in his eight regular season games with four goals and five points. A minor eye injury limited him to only three of the seven playoff contests and O’Marra had one assist in the playoffs. All of the seven games Comeau played were in the playoffs, posting three assists. Both players got a great taste of pro hockey. Only Comeau is scheduled to turn pro for good this fall, however, with O’Marra going back to junior.

Both Masi Marjamaki and Evgeny Tunik spent their first seasons with the Sound Tigers in 2005-06. Marjamaki was a 2005 fifth round pick of the Islanders, originally a 2003 second round pick of the Bruins who re-entered the draft. In 75 games, Marjamaki had nine goals and 31 points, a good debut and he got into the season finale with the Islanders. Tunik came over from Russia and had four goals and 18 points in 61 games. Tunik spent the previous two seasons with St. Petersburg in Russia. Both Marjamaki and Tunik should return to the Sound Tigers next season and improve their offense as sophomores.

Two other big contributors to the Sound Tigers offense were Steve Regier and Matt Koalska. Both players were in their second AHL season and improved greatly from their first, and it even bought them some unexpected time in the NHL. In 73 AHL games this season, Regier raised his goal total by nine up to 16 and his point total by 16 up to 38. In nine NHL games with the Islanders, he did not register any points. Koalska in 75 games, raised his goal total by 12 up to 19 and his point total by 34 up to 49. He got into three games in the NHL this season. If the Islanders fill their holes as expected, both Regier and Koalska should be back in the AHL next season.



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