Just as the junior signing deadline approached the tight walleted Islanders made a bit of a surprise move by signing two players, Tim Connolly and Mathieu Biron. Connolly topped off a strong training camp with a two point peformance in the Isles last preseason game including his first goal. Tim brings an instant element of excitement to the team that the Isles sorely need after the departure of Ziggy Palffy. Biron was a stalwart on defense throughout the preseason averaging almost 20 minutes a game. Mathieu is even better than the Isles scouting staff had anticipated and in the last week he beat out Branislav Mezei for the last spot on the blueline. Biron has been throwing his weight around, playing solid two way hockey, and using his 6-6 215lbs frame effectively. Mezei will rejoin Barrie in the OHL for another season.
Another high profile demotion was that of outstanding goaltender Roberto Luongo to Lowell. However, this situation may not last for long. Rumors are flying all over that the Isles will get rid of Felix Potvin, their most expensive player, to make room for the up and coming Loungo. Even though Robrto was their best player in the preseason rushing him into the NHL behind the kiddy corps blueline may not be the best idea. Luongo has been a winner at every level and even though he is confident now, he may not be ready for a full year on the island.
With most of the attention these days focusing on which players will stick with the big club, several Islanders prospects have started off their seasons in various leagues on a tear. In the Quebec league sniper Juraj Kolnik opened up with a goal and 6 pts in his first two games then added a hatrick to raise his totals to 4 goals and 9 points in only 3 games. Meanwhile goaltender Frederik Brind’amour was named defensive player of the week posting a shutout along with a 1.33 GAA and a .944 save%. Skilled pivot Justin Mapletoft who won the praise of Butch Goring in camp opened his season with a two goal three point performance, carrying Red Deer to a 4-4 tie.
As reported by HF’s own Peter Westermark Mattias Weinhandl has been paired with the Sedin-twins in MoDo, and Weinhandl has 1 goals and 2 assists with a +4 after three games. That line, featuring perhaps the three most promising 1980-born Swedes, is one of the most interesting ones to watch for the Elitserien-crowds. As a rookie in the Eliteserien Weinhandl is sure to put up impressive numbers on that line, and may prove to be a huge steal in the third round.
(Written by Bryan Kumiga)
The upcoming season should be very interesting for the Islanders organization. It is well known throughout the hockey community that the Isles posses one of the best assortments of prospects in the league and this season will be a critical one in the development of all this young talent. With training camp nearing there is always high expectations on prospects to make the big club, however it very unlikely that any Islanders elite prospects will make the NHL this year. The team is already the youngest in the league and has a host of unproven forwards who will finally get some quality playing time. Luongo, often regarded as the best player outside the NHL, will also most likely spend his season in the AHL. The player from this year’s draft with the best possibility of making the team would be Branislav Mezei. His is large, mobile, intelligent, plays within himself, and is already well adjusted to North American life. He is still expected to return to juniors while a young defense corps featuring Eric Brewer, Zdeno Chara, Kenny Jonsson, and Vladimir Chebaturkin continue to mature.
Most Islander fans cant even pronounce most of the Islanders late round picks this yera yet alone know much about their games. Team management is thrilled with their draft believing that they stole a few very good players and may have gotten some keepers that fell through the cracks. One of these players is right winger Juraj Kulnik. “Not many times can you get a guy this skilled in the fourth round,” said Isles scout Mario Saraceno. “He’s a goal-scorer and that’s how he will make it in the NHL.” Kolnik, who is Slovakian, notched 42 goals and 84 points in 62 games with the Rimouski Oceanic. The Slovakian sniper’s hot hand didn’t stop there as he netted nine more tallies in 11 playoff games. Not a bad rookie year. And according to Saraceno, Kolnik has his sights set on 60 next year. “He has tremendous hands,” said Saraceno. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but his ability to get open and avoid being checked makes up for that.” The Slovakian is fluent in English and should have no problem fitting in with the Islander locker room in the near future as countrymen Zdeno Chara and 1999 first-rounders Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc will be there. Besides his goal-scoring talent, there’s a lot to like about the 5-11, 182-pound Kolnik, according to Saraceno. “He’s a hard worker and plays in traffic,” he said. “He kills penalties and has a pretty good skating stride. There’s of course some room for improvement in his overall game. The desire is there, however, and I think we got a keeper that fell through the cracks.”