As always there have been many recent development among Islanders’ prospects. The Islanders had seven players representing four countries at the recent World Junior Championship. Mathieu Biron led the way as an assistant captain on the Bronze medal Canadian team. Biron logged almost 30 minutes a game, seeing time in all situations. Mathieu’s all around play was stellar and he was honored as a member of the All-Tournament Team. Fellow Canadian Chris Nielsen was also played a key role. He was extremely versatile, was excellent defensively and scored huge goals including the game tying goal in the bronze medal game that forced a shoot-out. Nielsen was among Canada’s leaders in plus minus at plus 4.
The Isles had three players on the Slovakian team, Juraj Kolnik, Kristian Kudroc, and Branislav Mezei. Kolnik has a quiet tournament until erupting in the final game with two goals and three points to finish second in team scoring. Kolnik and Kudroc led the Slovak squad with plus 4 ratings. Kudroc was a dominant physical force while playing solid in both ends. Mezei scored a rare goal for the Slovaks and was their top defenseman.
Rounding out the Islanders representatives were Swede Bjorn Melin and American Brett Henning. Melin started off strong with three points in his first two games then did not register another point. Henning performed well in a checking role for the US squad, but failed to get on the scoring sheet.
The highly anticipated NHL debut of Roberto Luongo came on Sunday night and the highest drafted goaltender ever did not disappoint. Luongo was solid throughout the game and was spectacular down the stretch preserving a 2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins. Luongo recorded 43 saves in his first appearance, a Islanders record. Loungo’s performance ended a three game skid for the Isles. Roberto’s dazzling play throughout training camp caused many rumors that Felix Potvin would be traded to make room for the emerging star. Now that backup Wade Flaherty is out indefinitely, Luongo will get a chance to prove himself without the pressure of being a number one goaltender. This is an ideal situation as Luongo will get to break in slowly and acclimate himself to NHL play. Luongo will most likely return the AHL when Flaherty returns, however Potvin’s trade value continues to climb an account of his strong play this year.
You can use two words to describe the future of the New York Islanders, Tim Connolly. Coming off a strong training camp the 1999 Islanders first round pick (5th overall) was signed to a three-year deal at the signing deadline.
Connolly at Training Camp
There was speculation by both members of the media and fans that Connolly would not be kept with the team for the season and he would be sent down to his Junior team before he lost his junior eligibility. Butch Goring, Head Coach of the NY Islanders said “He (Connolly) was signed with the intention of him being an Islander all season. I expect rookie mistakes from him, but he has a tremendous up side and expect that he will become a great hockey player.”
His first NHL regular season game was on October 2, 1999 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had 16 shifts and 15:15 of playing time. . Connolly won eleven of fifteen faceoffs. That’s a whopping 73%. He showed that he is able to handle the puck like a veteran and can skate with the best of players. Although he only took one shot during the game, his future is bright.
Connolly said, “It feels great to make the team. This is what I have been waiting for my whole life, and to do it while I am eighteen years old, it is exciting to be here.
He has a long future in the NHL. Could he be the next “Great One”? Only time will tell. He didn’t set the world on fire with his performance in Tampa. Nevertheless, he has the attitude and skills to take him far in the NHL.
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.