As expected, the Islanders have made the decision to keep Josh Bailey in the NHL this season. The question was what exactly Bailey stood to gain by going back to a junior team that has only lost twice so far to play against kids he’s already dominated for two full seasons. The danger was losing focus back in the OHL.
With Bailey up with the big club, the Islanders have 10 prospects in junior hockey.
Justin DiBenedetto, LW, Sarnia Sting
6th Round, 175th Overall, 2008
Passed over in his first draft-eligible year, DiBenedetto might be making other organizations reanalyze. He had certainly scored like a blue-chip prospect in his first two years in Sarnia. Last season, there was a pretty good reason for his gaudy scoring numbers: he was playing left wing for Steven Stamkos. This season though, DiBenedetto has been able to better the pace without the help. He sits in the top five league-wide in scoring with 37 points in 23 games, including a five-goal, two-assist outburst against Sault Ste. Marie. He has still been consistently on the plus side.
But for all that scoring, he’s still -1. DiBenedetto is an opportunistic scorer who won’t have the soft defenses and wide open spaces at the next level. His further development will require a dedication to his defensive game, but he does play with a swagger and edge that will serve him well.
Matt Martin, LW, Sarnia Sting
5th Round, 148th Overall, 2008
Second in team scoring with Sarnia with 27 points in 23 games is fellow Islanders pick Matt Martin, who made the club as a walk-on and now serves at its captain. He’s also +3. A forward who plays with a little bit of an edge, Martin showed throughout last season that he could also put the puck in the net. So far he has responded with good numbers, and seems to be growing into his leadership role with fervor. Trailing by a goal in the third period this past weekend, Martin logged his first career hat trick to lead his team to the win.
Mark Katic, LD, Sarnia Sting
3rd Round, 62nd Overall, 2007
Katic is playing in his fourth season with Sarnia. Over the past summer, he attended the Canadian Junior evaluation camp, and is in consideration for the World Juniors team, after having played with Team Ontario in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge. The blueliner attracted a lot of attention with his rookie season in the OHL, but hasn’t exactly blown those numbers away, despite his seniority. A fine skater with excellent distribution skills, he has 17 points in 23 games.
Simon Lacroix, D, Shawinigan Cataractes
7th Round, 196th Overall, 2007
The Shawinigan Cataractes are a much improved club this year, and their captain is one reason why. Lacroix is now in his third season in the Q. A steady offensive performer on two mediocre or worse teams, Lacroix is known as a power-play specialist. His numbers have been steadily good, considering the help he received, and ought to better his marks this season. So far he has 25 points in 22 games and is +15.
The goaltending situation in Shawinigan has also greatly improved, with Timo Pielmeier (SJ) having come over in a trade and played exceptionally well. This has helped Lacroix’s plus/minus improve nearly 30 notches so far this season. With his offensive skill-set, he’s logged a ton of minutes for an inexperienced and often outgunned club and held his own pretty well. He has added a little mass over the last seasons, but overall his game will be best served by puck control. He had a decent showing in training camp this year, and was sent down at the same time as many of the Bridgeport regulars. A bit like fellow Cataracte Marc-Andre Bergeron, Lacroix will run the risk of the poor pinch, or softness in puck battles, but both have excellent puck skills.
Kevin Poulin, G, Victoriaville Tigres
5th Round, 126th Overall, 2008
Poulin has again had a below average season in net for Victoriaville, with a 3.20 GAA and .897 save percentage in 24 games. This puts him the very bottom range for starters in the Q, although Peter Delmas (COL) in Lewiston makes the numbers look better. Poulin was initially scouted as a goaltender with athletic ability who lacked a certain degree of technical skill. Even given an average team in front of him, a sub .900 save percentage in his third year in junior is worrisome. His level of play speaks to the overall quality of goaltenders in the Islanders system, which is not good.
Max Gratchev, LW, Lewiston MAINEiacs
4th Round, 106th Overall, 2007
Gratchev is a player of promise whose career has been endangered by injuries. Russian-born, but playing most of his developmental years in North America, he had high expectations within the Islanders system. Now, as an overager playing on his third QMJHL team, and fifth year, things don’t seem so bright. He is just over a point a game this season, with 28 points in 22 games, and a +1. At this stage, with his injury history behind him, he should be doing a little more. He has this season to remain healthy, and it is likely that he sees some time in Bridgeport before the end of 2009.
Travis Hamonic, RD, Moose Jaw Warriors
2nd round, 53th overall, 2008
This tough power-play specialist, a second-round pick this year, is steadily improving on his scoring numbers from last season on one of the worst teams in the WHL. He has 14 points in 22 games, and is the top-scoring defenseman on his team, but is -10.
He attended the Canadian Juniors camp over the summer, and though competition is always fierce and politics always a factor, Hamonic has at least made it to the tryout stage, after winning a gold medal with the U-18s. His play has been a bright spot for the Warriors along with Jason Bast and Joel Broda, and the three were named to Team WHL for the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge. International competition seems to be one great way for players to elevate their games, and such opportunities bode well for a well-rounded defenseman in Hamonic.
Jyri Niemi, D, Saskatoon Blades
3rd Round, 72nd Overall, 2008
Niemi is a big Finnish defenseman with a cannon shot. He had the most goals of a rookie defenseman last year, and attracted some positive attention winning the hardest shot competition at the Top Prospects game. Because of that, other teams around the WHL have keyed on defending Niemi’s shot and the Blades’ power play has suffered. With just one goal so far, Niemi is a bit of a disappointment, but if he can adapt his offense over the course of the season, he is still a potent asset. He has seven points in 19 games, but is -3, third from worst on the team.
He will probably join Finland‘s U-20 team for this year’s World Juniors tournament.
Jared Spurgeon, RD, Spokane Chiefs
6th Round, 156th Overall, 2008
Spurgeon is yet another defenseman with offensive upside taken in the 2008 draft. He is a very skilled player, but is much more in the Brian Rafalski mold than the Sheldon Souray mold (as Niemi is). He has 11 points in 19 games, but his +11 is indicative of his solid defensive play.
An injury to his ankle kept him out of a few games earlier in the season, but he was named to the WHL team for the ADT Challenge. He is a leader for the defending Memorial Cup champions, who are currently leading their division.
Matt Donovan, D, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
4th Round, 96th Overall, 2008
Donovan is another slightly undersized defenseman with offensive skills. The Oklahoma native had an excellent season and led the RoughRiders in plus/minus as a rookie. He is still well on track to match those totals, on an improved Cedar Rapids squad. Donovan has nine points in 15 games and is +2.
He is heading for Denver University next season, which has a very good track record at developing players with his skill set.