Islanders Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Jeffrey Bausch

It’s been many seasons since the Islanders have produced a crop of young talent, and despite last season’s big trade which saw the organization part with top prospects Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra, the Islanders are on the verge of bringing up a dynamic group of young skaters who will add some much-needed depth.

There are far more forwards than defensemen and goalies on the Top 20 prospects list. Three of the top five are right wingers. The three defensemen listed, however, are quite good and should provide the Islanders with some stability on the blue line for a number of years down the road.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Kyle Okposo RW, 19
2. (2) Jeff Tambellini LW, 23
3. (3) Frans Nielsen C, 23
4. (4) Blake Comeau RW, 21
5. (5) Rhett Rakhshani RW, 19
6. (13) Sean Bergenheim LW, 23
7. (7) Dustin Kohn D, 20
8. (6) Jeremy Colliton RW, 22
9. (9) Petteri Nokelainen C, 21
10. (10) Andrew MacDonald D, 21
11. (14) Steve Regier LW, 23
12. (NR) Sean Bentivoglio LW, 21
13. (NR) Trevor Smith C, 22
14. (12) Tomas Marcinko C, 19
15. (11) Shea Guthrie RW, 20
16. (NR) Doug Rogers C, 19
17. (16) Jesse Joensuu RW, 19
18. (NR) Maxim Gratchev LW, 19
19. (NR) Mark Katic D, 18
20. (15) Sergei Ogorodnikov C, 21

1. (1) Kyle Okposo RW, 19

2006 first-round draft pick (7th overall)

Last year, Okposo collected 19 goals, 21 assists for 40 points and picked up 28 penalty minutes in 40 games played for the University of Minnesota. He also represented Team USA at the World Junior Championships.

What makes Okposo the Islanders’ top prospect is his size, strength and ability to dominate each and every game. He’s not that tall; in fact, he’s rather stocky, making him next to impossible to knock off the puck. He’s also fearless going into the corners. Okposo has a quick and accurate snap shot, but it’s his wrist shot that is his most dangerous tool. He backchecks aggressively and maintains the same level of energy every time he steps on the ice.

Okposo’s vision is still adjusting to better competition, but his quick hands make him reliable to give the puck to every time. For his efforts last season with the Golden Gophers, Okposo was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, just the latest honor for a truly special player.

2. (2) Jeff Tambellini LW, 23

Kings 2003 first-round draft pick (27th overall) – Traded to the Islanders in 2006

Tambellini split his time last season playing for the Islanders and their minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He spent 23 games with the Isles, scoring two goals, seven assists for nine points along with six penalty minutes. While with the Sound Tigers, Tambellini turned in 30 goals, 29 assists for 59 points and 46 penalty minutes in 50 games.

Tambellini has all the skills to become a top forward in the NHL. He possesses quick feet and has shown the discipline to play solid two-way hockey. He’s just as good in the offensive zone as he is in breaking out of the neutral zone as he is at getting back in the defensive zone.

Tambellini does not back down from physical play but he will need to improve upon this aspect of his game in order to maintain a spot on the Islanders roster. Everything else, though, seems to be in place for Tambellini to make the full-time jump to the NHL.

3. (3) Frans Nielsen C, 23

2002 third-round draft pick (87th overall)

Nielsen spent time with both the Islanders and Sound Tigers last season and represented Team Denmark at the World Championships. In 15 games with the Islanders, Nielsen had one goal, one assist for two points and no penalty minutes. During his 54 games with the Sound Tigers, Nielsen scored 20 goals, 24 assists for 44 points to go along with 10 penalty minutes.

While Nielsen may not have the strongest shot or the ability to put other players through the boards, he is the Islanders’ top playmaking prospect. A highly intelligent player with terrific vision, he can be very creative with the puck. Nielsen is at his best when he has capable players on either side of him, those who can move as fast as him and make shots off his passes. He’s solid on faceoffs and can move up and down the ice quickly.

Nielsen was a surprise success to many in the Islanders organization last season. In order to continue playing with the team this season, Nielsen needs to come in bigger and he needs to recover from other teams physically pounding him. While with the Islanders, all too often he was bumped off the puck or shied away from a big hit. To be the game-changing playmaker he has the ability to become, the puck needs to be on his stick, which means players will be coming after him more often than not. Developing his core will make it that much harder to knock him off his game.

4. (4) Blake Comeau RW, 21

2004 second-round draft pick (47th overall)

Comeau was another one of the Islanders prospects to spend time with the Islanders and Sound Tigers last season. He saw three games with the Islanders, scoring no points and no penalty minutes. However, in 61 games with the Sound Tigers, Comeau collected 12 goals, 31 assists for 43 points to go with his 46 penalty minutes.

Comeau has the potential to develop into a solid, second- or third-line forward for the Islanders. His size (6’2, 200 lbs.) and surprisingly strong skating skills nicely compliment the workhorse attitude he brings to every game. Comeau shows no hesitation going into the corners and throughout this past season, has steadily developed his offensive game, particularly with setting up plays. Off the ice, he is noted as having a great locker room presence and has been tapped as a potential future leader for the Islanders.

In order to stay in the NHL, Comeau needs to be faster, especially with finding and getting to the open ice to set up for a quick shot or pass. The rest of his skills are right on course — strong shot, good hands — and once he learns how to best utilize them, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to earn a spot on the Islanders roster.

5. (5) Rhett Rakshani RW, 19

2006 fourth-round draft pick (100th overall)

Rakhshani, playing in his freshman season with the University of Denver, put in 10 goals, 26 assists for 36 points and 38 penalty minutes in 40 games.

What Rakhshani lacks in size he certainly makes up for in speed and skill. Possessing dangerously fast feet, Rakhshani also has quick hands and an accurate shot. He backchecks well but the real strength of his game is in the offensive zone. He finds the open ice like no one else on the team. Over the course of this past season, Rakhshani also developed into a team leader. It’s been noted that such off-ice confidence has greatly helped his on-ice game.

Continuing to play in a program like Denver should help Rakhshani develop into a more complete player and give him a better chance at making it onto the Islanders roster. He will have to work out a great deal to add the muscle that will, in turn, compensate for his lack of size. But his speed and conditioning, along with a great shot and accurate passing ability, make him the type of player who can excel in the new NHL.

6. (13) Sean Bergenheim LW, 23

2002 first-round draft pick (22nd overall)

Bergenheim played with three teams last season – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in Russia, Frolunda in Sweden and Team Finland at the World Championships. He spent five games with Yaroslavl, scoring one goal, three assists for four points and collecting 24 penalty minutes. During his time with Frolunda, Bergenheim played in 36 games, notching 16 goals, 17 assists for 33 points to go along with a feisty 80 penalty minutes. And while representing Team Finland, Bergenheim played in two games, putting in one goal, two assists for three points and just six penalty minutes.

Bergenheim has all the makings to become a true fan favorite with the Islanders. He’s gritty, tough and has a developing scorer’s touch around the net. He’s also a gifted skater and can break out of the zone very quickly. Bergenheim will, in all likelihood, not make it as a first- or second-line forward, but he has the ability to be a top forward on special teams. He covers the defensive zone extremely well on the penalty kill and he’s next to impossible to move away from the net while on the power play.

The biggest thing with Bergenheim is he needs to learn how to better control his emotions, both on and off the ice. He’s turning into more of an offensive producer, but he’s hurting the teams he plays for with how often he’s in the box. The contract dispute from last season is another example of Bergenheim acting on his emotions and caused him to be held back from what should’ve been a big season for him. There’s also the fact that he wouldn’t play for Lokomotiv. He’s too talented of a player to have this many distractions keeping him away from playing to the best of his ability in a top-level league. The one-year contract he signed with the Islanders all but guarantees playing time in the NHL, but gives the organization the opportunity to send Bergenheim down to the Sound Tigers as they see fit. That being said, Bergenheim did not partake in the prospects mini-camp.

7. (7) Dustin Kohn D, 20

2005 second-round draft pick (46th overall)

Last season, Kohn played 61 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, scoring five goals, 45 assists for 50 points and 75 penalty minutes.

Mainly known as an offensive-minded defenseman, Kohn has great hands with the ability to quickly turn a defensive breakup into an offensive rush. He has a strong, accurate shot and skates the puck up ice with the confidence of a veteran NHL defenseman. He has sound defensive skills and positions himself well to stop his opponents. Kohn plays with a bit of an edge to his game and does not shy away from throwing his body around. He’s reliable in both zones and should figure in nicely onto both special team units.

Kohn has shown that he is eager to make it to the NHL, but he will need to go through the development process of moving from a junior league to playing at a professional level. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Kohn will dress for the Sound Tigers this season.

8. (6) Jeremy Colliton RW, 22

2003 second-round draft pick (58th overall)

While he may not have much to show for it, Colliton did technically spend time with both the Islanders and the Sound Tigers this past season. He spent one game with the Islanders, in which he did not record a point or any penalty minutes. In 45 games with the Sound Tigers, however, Colliton scored 10 times, recorded 10 assists for 20 points and notched 32 penalty minutes.

Colliton has an above-average work ethic that should help him along. He’s big on his skates at 6’2 and a little over 200lbs, and moves well. Colliton has soft hands – so he’s limited to areas away from the corners and boards, although he is beginning to throw his body around a bit more. The strongest aspect of Colliton’s game is the penalty kill. He’s a force when he goes after the puck and is very reliable with his defensive coverage.

Colliton is a talented player but the less involved he is physically, the less impact he’s going to have on the game. If he does continue to work on and improve his physical game, expect to see an increase in points and more call-ups to the Islanders. If, however, frustration with any lack of statistical success begins to settle in, Colliton may very well end up settling in as one of the more talented players for the Sound Tigers. He was forced to miss the Islanders prospect mini-camp this summer as he continues to recover from last season’s shoulder injury, but few in the organization doubt Colliton’s potential, especially when considering that he was the youngest alternate captain in Sound Tigers’ history last season.

9. (9) Petteri Nokelainen C, 21

2004 first-round pick (16th overall)

Nokelainen played in his first full season with the Sound Tigers last year, suiting up for an impressive (considering all injuries of seasons past) 60 games, scoring six goals, 10 assists for 16 points and 51 penalty minutes.

Things are finally looking up for Nokelainen. With an almost fully rehabilitated knee, he’s beginning to build upon the skills that led to him having been drafted so high. Believed to be a potential second-line forward, Nokelainen has shown flashes of great skating ability, superb shooting accuracy and, at times, an unparalleled level of hustle. He’s touted as being a true two-way forward and excellent on the penalty kill.

Nokelainen is a hard worker both on and off the ice and understands that his rash of injuries has really hastened his development into becoming a player in the NHL. He’s proven to be clutch, considering the fact that he was the one who scored the game-winning goal for "Team Bossy" in clinching the title in the prospect’s mini-camp tournament. Putting injuries behind him, Nokelainen is very much focused on bringing his game to the next level.

10. (10) Andrew MacDonald D, 21

2006 sixth round draft pick (160th overall)

MacDonald continues to excel in his development with the Islanders, splitting time with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL along with the Sound Tigers. In three games with the Sound Tigers, MacDonald did not register a point and did not record any penalty minutes. In 65 games played with the Wildcats, however, MacDonald had 14 goals, 44 assists for 58 points and 81 penalty minutes.

It was Islanders head coach Ted Nolan who felt that he would be a strong addition to the short-list of picks in 2006. Citing above average offensive skills for a blue liner, Nolan also pointed out MacDonald’s talent for creating quick offensive rushes. It is his ability to make tape-to-tape, up-ice passes and set up for quick shots off the point that make him, if not a true defenseman, a talented offensive-defenseman.

If MacDonald has intentions of making it to the Islanders, he will need to work on his positioning in the defensive zone. Once along the boards, MacDonald is easy to get by. He is all too eager to go in the offensive zone and will need to better discipline himself at sticking to the duties of his position. A season or two with the Sound Tigers will be telling of just how successful MacDonald will be in climbing through the ranks. 

11. (14) Steve Regier, LW, 23

2004 fifth round draft pick (148th overall)

Much like Colliton, Regier was called up for one game with the Islanders where he stayed off the score sheet. In 77 games played with the Sound Tigers, Regier was much more effective, scoring 19 times, recording 28 assists for 47 points along with 77 penalty minutes.

A physical forward, Regier is turning into the solid, all-around player that many in the organization expected him to become. At 6’5, Regier is an intimidating force on skates. He’s particularly strong around the net, with phenomenal lower body strength that makes him very difficult to knock off the puck.

Regier is a solid prospect but his lack of intensity on the ice is holding him back from becoming the player the Islanders thought they were drafting. At 23, his days as a prospect are coming to an end. He was not invited to the Islanders prospect’s mini-camp are signs that this upcoming season will need to be a big one for Regier if he’s to have any chance of playing in the NHL.

12. (NR) Sean Bentivoglio, LW, 21

Signed as a free agent May 20, 2007

Bentivoglio was not drafted but he has been impressive so far in his young career. In 15 games with the Providence Bruins of the AHL as a rookie, Bentivoglio scored three goals, 11 assists for 14 points and eight penalty minutes. While with the University of Niagara, Bentivoglio had 16 goals, 30 assists for 46 points to go along with 53 penalty minutes in 37 games. He was selected as the CHA Player of the Year.

Bentivoglio has a quick step that leads into a powerful skating stride and also has a true playmaker’s mentality on the ice. He’s quick to get in the zone and then quick to set up a play — he hardly ever thinks to shoot first. And Bentivoglio has already shown many in the organization that he has the commitment and determination to make it to the next level.

Bentivoglio still needs to adjust to the pro schedule. Once he adjusts to playing night after night during a longer season and at a professional level, he’ll have a clearer future.

13. (NR) Trevor Smith, C, 22

Not drafted. Signed as a free agent April 01, 2007

While Smith has, seemingly, come out of nowhere, he certainly has a lot of talent. Signed as a free agent, he spent time last season with both the Sound Tigers and the University of New Hampshire. In eight games with the Sound Tigers, Smith had one goal, two assists for three points and two penalty minutes. In 38 games with the UNH, Smith had 21 goals, 22 assists for 43 points and 39 penalty minutes.

Smith is gifted with a great set of hands and terrific hockey sense. Based on his offensive production last season at the UNH, the Islanders see him as having great potential. While his speed is average, he’s quick to get a shot off. The Islanders scouts are particularly excited about his tenacity in going after the puck. It seems that wherever the puck is, Smith is there chasing after it.

Making the jump from the NCAA to the minors for a few games is one thing, but it’ll be a major adjustment for Smith to play at the high tempo he brought to each game and every weekend for the UNH as opposed to playing at the best of his ability every night during a much longer season for the Sound Tigers. Much like with Bentivoglio, expect there to be a period of adjusting to the new schedule for Smith. One thing’s for sure, both have the skills to make it as far as they’re willing to work.

14. (12) Tomas Marcinko C, 19

2006 fourth-round draft pick (114th overall)

Last season, Marcinko spent time with the Barrie Colts of the OHL and also represented Team Slovakia at the WJCs. In 56 games with the Colts, Marcinko had 19 goals, 21 assists for 40 points and 54 penalty minutes.

Gifted with an incredible set of hands, Marcinko has the skills to become a truly special player. And at 6’4, there will be very few players around with his size and physical strength who can get around opponents with such relative ease. He’s quick to get a shot off — from anywhere on the rink — and has speed that has steadily improved over last season. He plays a solid two-way game at center and does fairly well on faceoffs.

Unfortunately, Marcinko’s skating ability is not entirely there just yet. He still has some problems with his balance on the puck and can get, at times, easily knocked off by other physically stronger players. Working with the coaching staff to resolve this matter will certainly bring Marcinko to a whole new level of play. He does have the ability to make a play for a spot on the Sound Tigers roster, if not this season, then certainly next.

15. (11) Shea Guthrie RW, 20

2005 third-round draft pick (76th overall)

Last season, Guthrie played in 36 games with the Clarkson Golden Knights in his sophomore season. He scored eight times, collected 23 assists for 31 points and 28 penalty minutes.

Guthrie’s greatest strength is his skating ability — he has a seamless stride that compliments a powerful shot, although he is beginning to show signs of being more of the pass-first, shoot-second type of player. His quickness has served Guthrie well, giving him the chances he needs to set up plays and get shots on the net.

His physical strength is coming along but this is something that Guthrie will greatly need to develop if he has intentions of playing professional hockey. He’s becoming more and more skilled each season, but he doesn’t seem to be adding any bulk to his 6′, 190 lbs. frame. Adding muscle will turn Guthrie into the dominant player he’s shown flashes of possibly becoming.

16. (NR) Doug Rogers C, 19

2006 fourth-round pick (100th overall).

In his freshman season with Harvard, Rogers played in 33 games. During that time, he scored seven goals, 17 assists for 24 points and 18 penalty minutes.

The Islanders drafted Rogers for his hockey sense and on-ice vision. He’s got particularly good acceleration and is strong on the puck, although he could stand to add a few more pounds to his thin frame. Rogers is a solid two-way center who knows his position well and very rarely leaves a zone unchecked. He’s strong on faceoffs and has already proven to be cool under pressure. He has a great deal of leadership experience and knows how to direct his teammates.

Rogers needs to continue developing his offensive game. He needs to become quicker at finding the open ice and more productive at getting shots on net. All of this should lead to him earning more ice time which will, in turn, lead to there being greater interest from the Islanders in getting him into the system. He will need to do all of this against the better opponents his team faces as the Harvard hockey program is not particularly known for generating much NHL talent.

17. (16) Jesse Joensuu RW, 19

2006 second-round draft pick (60th overall)

Joensuu played for Assat in Finland last season and also represented Team Finland at the WJCs. In 52 games with Assat, Joensuu scored nine goals, 17 assists for 26 points and 74 penalty minutes. In six games with Team Finland, Joensuu scored one goal, one assist for two points and recorded 14 penalty minutes.

A true power forward with a great shot, Joensuu has impressed scouts as a solid passer and playmaker. While not the strongest skater, Joensuu is at his best when digging the puck out of the corners. He makes quick decisions and knows where to set up in the zone. Always working to get to the puck to the teammates with the best shot, he’ll set up a play and go right to the net.

Joensuu is strong, but could be more effective if he increased his skating speed. Players are quick to get by him and he needs to commit himself to being faster if he wants a shot at the NHL.

18. (NR) Maxim Gratchev LW, 19

2007 fourth-round draft pick (106th overall)

Freshly-drafted Gratchev has created a lot of buzz about his potential based on what he was able to do for his team, the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, last season. In 70 games, Gratchev put in 35 goals, 42 assists for 77 points and also had 88 penalty minutes.

Gratchev has excellent puckhandling skills and carries the puck through the zone with confidence. He’s a bit of a loose cannon on the ice and often finds himself out of position, but that’s a result of the energy he brings to every shift. Gratchev is beginning to develop somewhat of a scorer’s touch against better competition and has already proven to be a reliable force in the defensive zone.

Despite, however, all the energy Gratchev brings to the ice, he is not the best skater and has shown little discipline in sticking to zone coverage. He is still far from becoming an impact player for the Islanders, but playing at the men’s professional level will help him develop quickly.

19. (NR) Mark Katic D, 18

2007 third-round draft pick (62nd overall)

The Islanders’ first selection in this year’s past draft, Katic, spent last season with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. He also represented Team Canada at the World Championships Under-18 Tournament. In 68 games with Sarnia, Katic notched 5 goals, 35 assists for 40 points to go along with 31 penalty minutes.

Katic’s game is focused around his speed. He has terrific acceleration, lower-body strength and excellent balance. He’s not afraid to go into the offensive zone to set up plays and often has no problem getting back in time to cover his position. He has a strong, accurate shot from the point, but his most dangerous weapon is a surprisingly strong wrist shot. Katic makes fast, accurate passes out of the zone and can read plays very quickly.

Katic has all the skills but the one problem that will, in all likelihood, follow him around for the rest of his career, is his short stature. He’s just 5’11 and will need to bulk up a good deal in order to make it anywhere in professional hockey. There’s a great deal of untapped potential and if the Islanders are smart about giving Katic the proper development time, he could possibly turn into one of their more effective blue liners in just a few seasons.

20. (15) Sergei Ogorodnikov C, 21

2004 third round draft pick (82nd overall)

Ogorodnikov’s roller coaster season last year saw him bounce between the Sound Tigers and the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL. In 27 games with the Sound Tigers, Ogorodnikov scored just three times, picked up three assists for six points. His time with Pensacola, however, was an entirely different story. In 42 games, he had 18 goals, 22 assists for 40 points.

Combining speed, balance and acceleration, Ogorodnikov is truly an excellent skater. He also has a good set of hands and is very comfortable with the puck, often times showing a creative side with slick moves that help him get by defensemen. He’s a one-way player, though, and does not play defense well at all. Ogorodnikov is the son of a Russian hockey coach.

Ogorodnikov will need a few seasons of development time, but it’s unclear where that will happen give that he’s not on the training camp roster. Last season was a test, so how he rebounds this year will be the most accurate predictor of just how far he’ll go.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.