Islanders 2006-07 European prospects review

By Jeffrey Bausch

Jesse Joensuu, W
2006 second-round draft pick (60th overall)
Team Assat, SM-Liiga (Finland)

Jesse Joensuu‘s game is finally beginning to catch up to his tremendous size – 6’4 and 205 pounds — in this, his third year with Assat. At the halfway point this season, the young forward was already on pace to pass career-high marks in goals, assists and points. He eventually went on to demolish those numbers, scoring nine goals, 17 assists for 26 points in 52 games played. While a point in every other game may not impress all, Assat was at the bottom of the standings for a majority of the season, making it difficult for Joensuu to enjoy any further success. His season-ending stats put him in a fifth-place tie on the team.

Joensuu also represented Team Finland at the World Junior Championships, scoring a goal in his team’s quarterfinal loss against Team USA. His game is beginning to develop against better competition. Joensuu is still a couple of seasons away from making it to the NHL, but he’s certainly on the right career path.

Kim Johansson, C

2006 fifth-round draft pick (141st overall)
Team IF Malmo, J20 SuperElit (Sweden)

This was the second full season for smooth-skating center Kim Johansson in Sweden‘s under-20 league. The 19-year-old Johansson is proving that he is more than ready to take the next step up in his professional career. By January, Johansson had already set career marks for himself in goals, assists and points, despite having played in 11 fewer games than last season. He had 30 points in 38 games and is widely expected to graduate to Malmo’s Allsvenskan team next season.

During the playoffs, Johansson played a large role in pushing Malmo to the second round before the team was eventually eliminated. In four playoff games, he registered no goals, two assists for two points and 10 penalty minutes. Johansson made tremendous strides this season and if he can pull of the same kind of successes while playing at a higher level of competition, he’ll have a bright future.

Stefan Ridderwall, G
2006 sixth-round draft pick (173rd overall)
Team Djurgardens IF, J20 SuperElit (Sweden)

This past season, Stefan Ridderwall was the third string goaltender for the Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Elitserien and was thus assigned the task of playing for the team’s under-20 affiliate. Making the most of his playing time, this solid goaltending prospect played in 28 games for the Djurgarden IF J20 team. The numbers he posted were astounding — a 1.78 GAA and four shutouts. And just when one thought he couldn’t play any better, in the playoffs Ridderwall brought his game to a new level, playing in seven games and recording a playoff leading 1.44 GAA and .956 save percentage. His individual efforts, unfortunately, were not enough, as his team eventually fell to Frolunda in the championship series.

Ridderwall continues to develop into a strong goaltender for the Islanders organization. Considered technically strong, Ridderwall plays a unique style of butterfly/stand-up between the pipes, has quick reflexes and covers his angles well. But this is all with him playing in the under-20 league. Competing at a higher level of hockey over the next season or two will be truly telling of this 19-year-old’s future in professional hockey.

Igor Volkov, F
2003 8th-round draft pick (246th overall)
Team Salavat Yulayev, Russian Super League (Russia)

Forward Igor Volkov has completed yet another solid season for Ufa Salavat Yulayev of the Russian Super League, his seventh to date. Drafted by the Islanders for his speed and ability to score, Volkov recorded 12 goals, 11 assists for 23 points in 52 games played this season. He has come through at many a critical moment for his team, a powerhouse in the Russian Super League.

Volkov has steadily matured in Russia and is now considered to be among the Islanders’ top Russian prospects. He recently signed a one-season agreement with Salavat Yulayev for another year of play, despite earlier rumors that he might make the jump overseas this upcoming summer to officially compete for a spot within the Islanders organization. Volkov, 24, will take this additional year to fine-tune his skills before coming over in the summer of 2008 to join the Islanders, where many predict he will eventually develop into a strong second line forward and key power-play specialist.

Sean Bergenheim, C

2002 first-round draft pick (22nd overall)
Team Vastra Frolunda, Swedish Elite League (Sweden)

While former prospect standout Sean Bergenheim‘s season could have started out better, it certainly ended on a high note. At the beginning of the year, he opted to sign with Yaroslav of the Russian Super League rather than accept a one-way contract for less money with the Islanders. But when he became unhappy with the Russian team, he tried to come back to the Islanders. Rather than offering Bergenheim a contract, the Islanders stuck true to their club policy of not signing players after training camp. That being the case, Bergenheim chose to swallow his pride and signed on with Vastra Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League and had a career year, mixing top-line skill with a healthy dose of grit.

In five games with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, Bergenheim put up one goal, three assists for four points and 24 penalty minutes. Following his contract brouhaha, Bergenheim then played 36 games for Vastra Frolunda, totaling 16 goals with 17 assists for 33 points and 80 penalty minutes. He does not enjoy skating on the larger rink and is said to be looking forward to getting another shot at playing for the Islanders this upcoming training camp. It sounds like Bergenheim learned his lesson and will do what it takes to make a big impression on the organization next season.

Emil Axelsson, D
2004 seventh-round draft pick (210th overall)
Team Vasteras IK, Allsvenskan (Sweden)

Defensive prospect Emil Axelsson has bounced around quite a bit this season. He began the 2006-07 season playing for Aroboga of the Swedish division 2 league, his second consecutive year on the team. In 39 games played, Axelsson scored seven goals, 12 assists for 19 points and 62 penalty minutes. During that time, he was also bumped up to play with Linkoping HC of the Swedish Elite League, the highest level of play he has experienced yet. However, midway through the season, Axelsson was moved to Vasteras IK, a team, like Aroboga, that plays in the Swedish division 2 league. Vasteras IK made the playoffs but the team was swept in their first round of play.

Axelsson is known to many as a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. He can be chippy at times but he’s smart with the puck when in the defensive zone. That being the case, Axelsson should be getting more calls like the one he received from Linkoping HC to play in the higher divisions. Axelsson is only 21 years of age and still has a season or two to hone his play before becoming a defenseman who’d be of use to the Islanders.

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