Islanders AHL/ECHL prospects update

By Jeffrey Bausch

The Islanders have nine prospects on the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and two on the Utah Grizzlies, their ECHL affiliate. There’s a talented group of players in both leagues, but their collective skill has not translated to any sort of success in the standings for either team so far this year.

AHL: Bridgeport Sound Tigers (9-13-1-0)

Andrew MacDonald, D

2006 6th round pick (160th overall)

MacDonald, playing in his first full year in the AHL, has fit in nicely on the Sound Tigers roster. Through 19 games played, he’s scored twice from the back line, to go along with three assists for five points and eight penalty minutes. He’s right where many expected him to be at this point in his career.

It’s a big jump to go from juniors to the AHL, but MacDonald is coming along just fine. He’s worked hard at improving many of his defensive weaknesses, without sacrificing his ability to make big offensive plays. There is still some work to do, as he still gets caught out of position going up ice and trying to maneuver around opponents. He also needs to further develop his physical game, as that is something that is definitely missing. But he’s showing the Islanders a good deal of promise and should have more to show for his abilities in games down the road.

Ben Walter, C
Traded to the Islanders in 2007

Already in his  third season of AHL play, Walter is continuing to become a better player with each game. Traded last season for Petteri Nokelainen, a former top prospect with the Islanders, the team got a player who just last season was voted MVP of his former team, the Providence Bruins, by his teammates. This season, after 18 games played, he has seven goals, eight assists for 15 points.

Walter has been a terrific pickup by the Islanders, quickly emerging as one of the team’s top offensive prospects. He is incredibly well-disciplined on the ice and is always in great position to score. He has excellent speed, a great shot and tremendous accuracy. So far this season, he’s withstood all physical punishment and hasn’t retalliated once. He’s high on the Islanders call-up list and it shouldn’t be too long before he’s making the trip to Uniondale. 

Sean Bentivoglio, LW
Signed with Islanders in 2007

Another solid addition to the Islanders system has been left winger Sean Bentivoglio. Signed as a free agent after going undrafted and playing a handful of games with the Providence Bruins, Bentivoglio is making believers out of those who doubted his ability to play at the professional level. In 23 games in his first full season in the AHL, Bentivoglio has scored three times, collected eight assists for 11 points.

Bentivoglio is coming along rather well with the Sound Tigers this season. Before joining the team, he was named the CHA Player of the Year during his final season at Niagra University and, in 15 games with the Providence Bruins, he scored 14 points to go along with eight penalty minutes. It seems that regardless of where Bentivoglio is playing, he has the ability to have an impact on the game. But the reason why he went undrafted is that he’s undersized. He has also shown a lack of discipline in regards to his positioning, something that’s been a bit of a liability this season. But Bentivoglio has a solid, quick release and unquestionable accuracy. It’s only a matter of time before he begins bulking up and becomes better overall player. When that happens, many might be surprised yet again to find out just how much he has to offer.

Blake Comeau, RW
2004 2nd round pick (47th overall)

Coming off a statistically successful season last year, veteran winger Blake Comeau has had some difficulty in finding the net this year. Through 23 games played, Comeau has scored just three times, to go along with five assists for eight points and 20 penalty minutes. At this point last season, Comeau had already set a record for assists in a game (four), points in a game and had already earned his first call-up with the Islanders.

Comeau is a feisty player who is still learning how to combine his size with his offensive skills. He’s fearless in going anywhere on the ice to go after the puck. But things have simply not been going his way this season. He’s looked lost out on the ice at times, often out of position and without much desire to backcheck and get back into the play. This has resulted in his being a -8 so far this year, among the team trailers in that regard.  But the fact of the matter is that Comeau is too talented of a player to be playing this poorly — expect him to break through eventually and with his success will come success for the Sound Tigers, too.

Jeremy Colliton, C

2003 2nd round pick (58th overall)

Colliton is another Sound Tiger veteran who has been slow to start this season. Coming off a frustrating year last season, one that was ended prematurely due to a shoulder problem, Colliton was expected to bounce back in a big way in this, already his third time around with the Sound Tigers. And while he has remained healthy thus far, he has very little to prove for it. In 23 games played, he’s scored only four times to go along with just one assist for five points and 17 penalty minutes.

The slow start Colliton is having this season may impact his career more than some may anticipate after just a quick glance. He’s already spent time with the Islanders — 19 games in total — but has been sent back time and again because he hasn’t put the pieces of his game together to make him an impact player the Islanders might want to keep around. Colliton is a big player, but he doesn’t use his size to his advantage when out on the ice. He’s got an excellent pair of hands, but he can’t get a shot off quick enough. He breaks out of the zone well but doesn’t get back fast enough. All of this has resulted in him spending a bit more time in Bridgeport than some — namely those who drafted him in the second round four years ago — had anticipated him being there. If he wants any shot at making it to the Islanders, especially when competing against hot offensive prospects like Sean Bergenheim, Jeff Tambellini,  and Ben Walter, Colliton will need to step up his game in a big way this year.

Steve Regier, LW
2004 5th round pick (148th overall)

Regier is finally hitting his stride and has emerged as one of the top offensive players for the Sound Tigers this season. After mediocre showings in previous seasons, which saw him score 38 points in his first year and 46 points in his second year, Regier, has scored nine times, collected 10 assists for 19 points and 22 penalty minutes through 23 games this season.

Regier is playing with a new sense of confidence out on the ice, something that has vastly improved his ability in driving to the net. He’s also beginning to understand how to better position his enormous frame out on the ice. At 6’5 inches, Regier is next to impossible to move away from the front of the net. He’s playing on the team’s top lines and is earning plenty of playing time on the special team units. Regier still has a ways to go in developing his game, namely in setting up plays and reading the developing ones more quickly, but the season he’s having so far is certainly bringing his name closer to the top of the Islanders’ call-up list.

Jamie Fraser, D
Signed with Islanders in 2006

Fraser has been another solid addition to the very young, very inexperienced defensive core on the Sound Tigers roster. Originally from the Syracuse Crunch, Fraser signed with the Sound Tigers last season and has since emerged as one of the team’s top defensemen. Through 23 games, he has scored three times, to go along with four assists for seven points and collecting zero penalty minutes.

Fraser has proven to be a solid, middle-of-the-pack defenseman with good size, a reliable shot and sound defensive strengths. He’s quick — both skating and with the shot — and the Sound Tigers are certainly using that to their advantage this season on the special team units. Still young, at only 22 years old, Fraser needs to work hard on both sides of his game. He can get caught out of position trying to get the puck out of the zone and also has a tendency to play the puck and not keep an eye out for the uncovered player in the zone, a combination that has led him to having a -9, second-worst on the team. His offensive game is getting there — his three goals so far this year match his season total from last season — but he has the potential to become a player who can offer far more than what he’s shown so far in his career.

Dustin Kohn, D
2005 2nd round pick (46th overall)

For all that Kohn was built up to be, he’s off to a rather disappointing start. With the gift of a great set of hands and terrific vision on the ice, he has done very little offensively in this, his first full season in the AHL. Through 18 games played, he has scored one goal, added only two assists for three points and 10 penalty minutes.

Kohn came off a season with the Brandon Wheat Knights of the WHL where he finished with 50 points and 77 penalty minutes in only 61 games. Kohn certainly earned his spot on the Sound Tigers roster, but he’s not showing much for it right now. He’s got decent size but often appears overmatched by the faster AHL-level players. The one thing that has certainly been a plus this season is Kohn’s on-ice intelligence. He’s doing well defensively, breaking up plays and getting the puck out of the zone quickly — the basic fundamentals of defense-first hockey. But he plays better when he plays a more physical game, and that has yet to get going for him this season. He’s been shy to lay out the big hits and is not going after the puck nearly as hard as he should be, results that which have limited his ability to create offensive scoring chances. That being said, at only 20 years of age, Kohn still has time to develop.

Frans Nielsen, C
2002 3rd round pick ( 87th overall )

Frans Nielsen is another one of the veteran Sound Tigers to start off slow this season. Having played 15 games with the Islanders last season, he was expected to remain at the top of the organization’s call-ups this season. However, through 23 games played, he has scored only three goals, added nine assists for 12 points and eight penalty minutes. While those may look like somewhat respectable numbers, consider that he finished last season with 44 points in just 54 games.

Nielsen’s greatest strength remains his ability to be a game-changing playmaker. But with team-wide struggles on offense, he has found little success when passing the puck. He has also been greatly affected by the recent call-up of good friend and talented linemate Jeff Tambellini, with whom Nielsen is often paired. He’s slowly beginning to adjust his game to compensate for the offensive support he’s lacking, and so long as he can continue making these slight adjustments, he should begin to emerge statistically. Nielsen is simply too talented a player to stay this quiet for the entire season.

ECHL: Utah Grizzlies (11-10-0-2)

Jason Pitton, LW

2004 8th round pick (244th overall)

Pitton did not have a good off-season and so begins this year with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. He played last season with the Sound Tigers, collecting only 19 and 65 penalty minutes in 76 games. With that kind of production, plus the fact that he came in a bit overmatched by his Sound Tiger teammates, Pitton was demoted to the ECHL. So far, through 20 games played, he’s scored four goals, seven assists for 11 points with 24 penalty minutes which is, unfortunately, not the kind of production that will get him promoted back up to the AHL.

Having been drafted in the eighth round, not much is really expected of Pitton. But having played for the Sound Tigers for all of last season, he was really hoping to maintain that roster spot again this year. He’s a good player to have on your team, the type you’d want playing the third or fourth line checking role who can really irritate opponents. Pitton needs to step up his offensive game and become more reliable in that sense if he’s to have any shot at making it back to the Sound Tigers any time soon. 

Trevor Smith, LW

Signed with the Islanders in 2007

Smith, an undrafted free agent signing, has proven to be a wise pick-up by the Islanders. Originally slated to play with the Sound Tigers this off-season, the Islanders organization felt it best to give Smith some extra time to develop his skills in the ECHL. He came off a tremendous season in the NCAA and showed a lot of promise and so far has delivered. Through 18 games this season, Smith has collected nine goals, 10 assists for 19 points and 20 penalty minutes.

Smith doesn’t look likely to stay in Utah for too long. He left the University of New Hampshire after just his sophomore season to sign with the Islanders organization. He has tremendous speed and a developing offensive game — hence him being in the ECHL instead of the AHL right now. He’s a smart player who puts himself and his linemates in a good position to score everytime he’s out there, leading him to a plus/minus of +14 so far this season. But the one thing to watch for, if and when he does make it up to the AHL, is how he will respond to playing against players as quick as him but more physically able. But for right now, it looks to be that Smith is hitting his stride and is producing statistically at a great pace. If he can continue this level of play, there’s no question he’ll be competing for a spot with the Sound Tigers sooner than later.